The Belgian Cycling Federation Is Breaking Away from the Pack with Cisco Architectural Approach
Belgium is a cycling powerhouse. Our greatest champion, Eddy Merckx, won the Tour de France five times and is one of 10 Belgians to have worn the yellow jersey at the end of the world’s most prestigious stage race. Our riders have won 31 UCI Championships and four Olympic Gold Medals, including Greg Van Avermaet’s road racing podium at the 2016 Rio Games.
None of this happened by chance. The Belgian Cycling Federation has been developing riders for national and international competition since 1882. Much of this incredible work happens behind the scenes. To better serve athletes and coaches, we recently moved into a new headquarters and updated our IT infrastructure.
IT in Service of Sport
I’ve worked with Belgian Cycling for nearly 15 years, including the last decade as our general manager. I oversee our day-to-day operations and the logistics of getting our riders to 65 races and training camps around the world. I am also in charge of our coaching and training programs, which increasingly rely on digital tools.
In the last decade, big data, analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI) have transformed the cycling world. Our coaches and riders collect training and race data, then upload it to our servers for further analysis to improve performance and customize their training programs. They also use our IT infrastructure for flight, rail, and hotel bookings, to plan travel itineraries and transport bicycles, and to apply for and manage UCI licenses, permits, and race entries.
While coaches and riders naturally access these IT resources remotely, most of Belgian Cycling's support staff work full time from the office. However, when the pandemic hit, we suddenly had to send everyone home. With so much happening off-site and the vast quantities of sensitive data we handle, we needed infrastructure that is fast, reliable, and securely accessible from anywhere. Fortunately, we had already upgraded our network and servers upon moving into our new building and were in good shape to deal with the pandemic.
A Hybrid Solution Brought Us Up to Speed
When we decided to update our infrastructure, we turned to our longtime partner ConXioN, and they recommended Cisco. I have an IT background and have used Cisco switches and routers in the past, but I wasn’t up to date on cloud-based solutions, software-defined infrastructure, or wireless endpoints. Kristof Vansteeland at ConXioN sat down with us, helped us outline our needs, and showed us a suite of Cisco products that would secure Belgian Cycling’s network and bring everything up to speed.
Kristof understood that our focus is sports, not IT. His team engineered a hybrid solution combining on-site servers and cloud-based applications that is monitored remotely by ConXioN as a managed service. We use DNS-layer security to protect our network, our internal servers, and devices connected to our network. Cisco Umbrella combines multiple security functions into one solution, so we can extend protection to devices, remote users, and distributed locations anywhere on the planet. Thanks to Umbrella, our coaches, athletes, and remote workers can log in safely to access the data and apps they need to ensure peak performance and to keep our national cycling program rolling smoothly along.
We are also running another cloud-based security tool, Cisco Secure Endpoint. It offers enhanced threat detection and response, giving us increased visibility into our network and endpoints that allows us to defend against advanced threats. It automatically detects millions of malicious files. Cisco Secure Endpoint integrates natively with the Cisco Meraki dashboard that we use to remotely control, configure, and monitor our Cisco Meraki MX Security and SD-WAN appliances with built-in firewall.
The third tool we use is Cisco Secure Email, which works seamlessly with Outlook and the entire Microsoft 365 suite, including Microsoft Sharepoint. ConXioN looked at how we work and set up an end-to-end Cisco solution that allowed us to collaborate remotely and locally while protecting our people and securing our data and IT assets.
A New IT Approach
One of the benefits of moving to a new headquarters was throwing out our old network and building a new one from scratch. We were free to find a better approach to IT. Instead of deploying and maintaining our new infrastructure ourselves, we let ConXioN do all the heavy lifting.
As a result, the rollout of our new hybrid environment was seamless to our users. They logged in from wherever they were and started working. There was no downtime, and there was minimal on-site disruption. ConXioN’s engineers installed the Meraki MX84 endpoints and then configured them remotely using a cloud-based dashboard.
Our work with ConXioN didn’t end there. Belgian Cycling no longer has an in-house IT team, and we rely on ConXioN to remotely manage our infrastructure on a full-time basis. ConXioN’s engineers proactively monitor and maintain our network and our servers. They update our hardware and software, protect us from cyber threats, maintain data integrity and privacy, and ensure users can log in without issue. Their engineers send us regular reports to keep us up to date, and we follow up when further action is needed or to implement new features.
Our new Cisco infrastructure is so robust and so well-protected that we haven’t experienced a single security incident or any downtime in two years. Umbrella provides real-time threat detection and network visibility, but not at the expense of speed. Our users have access to the apps and the information they need via a high-speed, high-capacity, high-availability network, and fast physical and virtual servers.
Furthermore, this hybrid solution is easily scalable. ConXioN can remotely add cloud-based storage, compute, and networking infrastructure as needed. We can do this as a permanent upgrade to our existing resources or to deal with added demand on our network during major events like the Tour de France or the Summer Olympics.
Serving Belgian Cyclists Better
With the help of ConXion and Cisco, we improved how we serve Belgian cyclists. We have better tools for collecting, managing, and analyzing training and race data. We have also improved our administrative workflows, which encompasses everything from the way we plan races to how we reimburse coaches and athletes for travel expenses.
We also talk about our new IT infrastructure when we meet with existing and potential sponsors. It’s a way of showing them that we will invest their money wisely. When they see how we maximize our IT spend and use technology to innovate, better promote the sport, and build the careers of champions, they are more likely to back us.
I’m coming to the end of my run at the Belgian Cycling Federation. I’ll be retiring at the end of 2021, and I’m happy that we’ve not only upgraded our IT infrastructure but have laid the groundwork for increased visibility, improved security, and better performance. We hope to build on this foundation by moving to a full Cisco stack in the next three years. We will also be adding more network and security layers, including physical and software-defined switches.
Belgian Cycling is using technology to generate excitement about the sport and help our riders rise through the international ranks. It is a winning strategy, but we are not resting on our laurels or taking a victory lap. The best is yet to come.