Red Bull X-Alps: Live tracking the world’s most popular adventure race

About Red Bull X-Alps

Red Bull X-Alps is a major adventure race created and run by zooom production, an Austria-based communications agency focused on sports and lifestyle.

Industries: Media & Entertainment
Location: Austria

About Wabion

Wabion is the leading Google Cloud Premier Partner in the German-speaking region, with companies in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

Using Google’s recommended architecture for IoT, zooom and Wabion created a new live tracking system for the Red Bull X-Alps alpine adventure race in less than three months.

Google Cloud Results

  • Doubles retention time on the website with improved speed on mobile
  • Handles delayed athlete statistics thanks to Google Cloud Dataflow
  • Scales to match demand with autoscaling on Google App Engine

Doubled event website retention time

Every two years, more than 30 athletes from around the world arrive in Austria to compete in Red Bull X-Alps, one of the world’s most watched adventure races. Over the course of two weeks, they cross the European Alps from east to west, beginning near Salzburg, Austria and ending by the Mediterranean Sea. Athletes can only move by hiking, climbing, running, and paragliding, which adds a fascinating strategic element to the race. Judged correctly, racers can cover 100 kilometers in a single flight, but failing to catch the right thermals can set them back days.

“When we started in 2003, we had to work out how to communicate our race to a big audience,” says Ulrich Grill, founder and owner of zooom productions, which runs Red Bull X-Alps. “We wanted to do something different, so we tried live tracking with GPS sending data to servers, which put it together. Now we have imagery from helicopters, film crews, and the athletes themselves all pulled into a big content stream with live tracking at its core and more than 500 million documented contacts per race. The success of the Red Bull X-Alps is due purely to the live tracking. Over the two weeks, people start talking about it, following it, and creating momentum that drives traffic up.”

“We had big issues in 2015 with live tracking on mobile devices, because there was too much data. Each athlete has about 1 million GPS points from Salzburg to Monaco, so when it was live tracking 32 athletes, the mobile browser crashed. The new solution had to be sustainable and reliable, with a foundation for us to build on.”

Hannes Maier, Head of Digital, zooom productions

Over time, the information delivered around that live tracking became increasingly dense, and by the eighth Red Bull X-Alps race in 2017, the feed threatened to crash mobile devices. With just three months to go before the competition began, zooom teamed up with Wabion to create a streamlined solution for thousands of expectant fans.

“We had big issues in 2015 with live tracking on mobile devices, because there was too much data,” says Hannes Maier, head of digital at zooom productions. “Each athlete has about 1 million GPS points from Salzburg to Monaco, so when it was live tracking 32 athletes, the mobile browser crashed. We tried to apply Google material design standards for a good user experience on mobile, because we could see on Google Analytics that 80% of spectators tuning in first thing in the morning, between 6am and 8am, were on mobile.”

Building at speed

Streaming to mobile devices means balancing data density with performance expectations. When zooom discovered that the 3D mapping plugin it used for Red Bull X-Alps live tracking was discontinued, the team looked to create a new, faster replacement in less than three months. “We had to make a strategic decision under pressure,” says Hannes. “We budget across events, so we could not afford to reinvent everything again for the next race. The new solution had to be sustainable and reliable, with a foundation for us to build on.”

“I noticed that the situation was a bit like a mobile game, because there are all of these athletes with tracking devices and sometimes they are offline, so you need to find a way to deal with late data. Google Cloud Dataflow is designed to deal with exactly that.”

Herwig Baumberger, CEO, Wabion

That’s when zooom teamed up with the digital transformation experts at Wabion. “Wabion is a perfect partner,” says Ulrich. “Its team had the same drive, push, and vision as us, and understood there was not much time, and everything had to work seamlessly. There's no postponing the race, and because the live tracking is the core of the race, there can be no Plan B. We needed a partner who completely understood that and could be 1,000% reliable. Wabion is that partner. Its team recommended we build on Google Cloud Platform, which means we can be quick, agile, and focused on coding, using managed platform services to avoid wasting time configuring servers and services.”

“We used the Google recommended architecture for an IoT platform,” says Herwig Baumberger, CEO at Wabion. “That means we used Google Pub/Sub extensively to ingest data. I noticed that the situation was a bit like a mobile game, because there are all of these athletes with tracking devices and sometimes they are offline, so you need to find a way to deal with late data. Google Cloud Dataflow is designed to deal with exactly that. Then, we used Google BigQuery to analyse the data and deployed a server-side maps rendering solution.”

“The race only goes on for two weeks, so we had to find a solution that was fast and easy to scale up, and fast and easy to scale down. Google App Engine provided us with a lot of processing power when we needed it, and we could turn it down very quickly when we didn’t.”

Hannes Maier, Head of Digital, zooom productions

By deploying the new solution on Google App Engine, the team helped ensure a more stable, autoscaling, cost-efficient environment that could handle a leap in traffic from 400 to more than 250,000 sessions per day as the race began.

“The race only goes on for two weeks, so we had to find a solution that was fast and easy to scale up, and fast and easy to scale down,” says Hannes. “Google App Engine provided us with a lot of processing power when we needed it, and we could turn it down very quickly when we didn’t.”

Doubling retention

With the new live tracking solution, retention time on the Red Bull X-Alps website was doubled for the 2017 race. Coupled with new integrations with social media, which drive additional traffic to the platform, the site received more visitors too. Now, zooom and Wabion are looking to further leverage Google Cloud Platform products to improve the experience, including improved athlete statistics.

“It’s very challenging to do stats and rankings for athletes because the data they send can be as much as two days late,” says Hannes. “It's very processing intensive to calculate all the stats, and, though we already calculate a lot of them, technically, we think we can use Google BigQuery to show more stats, including historical stats, in a faster way. That’s something we’re really looking at for 2019.”

About Red Bull X-Alps

Red Bull X-Alps is a major adventure race created and run by zooom production, an Austria-based communications agency focused on sports and lifestyle.

Industries: Media & Entertainment
Location: Austria

About Wabion

Wabion is the leading Google Cloud Premier Partner in the German-speaking region, with companies in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

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