Rolling Stones make wireless part of the entourage

For Todd Griffith, Wednesday’s concert with the Rolling Stones will be something of a professional swan song.

As the technical expert who sets up the rock group’s IT infrastructure, Griffith has travelled around the world with

the Stones. However the Molson Canadian Rocks for Toronto show, potentially the largest concert in Canadian history with close to half a million ticket sales, will likely be his last gig with them. Griffith said he has accepted a new job as CIO of Casino Niagara.

His departure means someone else will have to take over the travelling wireless network based on 3Com products that assist the organizers who handle the Stones’ live events. That’s one of the reasons, Griffith says, he tries not to overcomplicate his IT strategy.

“”There’s not anything too fancy happening on this network,”” he said. “”Because we’re only out in a day or two, I try to make it as quick and easy to deploy as possible.””

Brent Nixon, 3Com’s wireless product line manager, said Griffith is wise to keep things simple.

“”It’s not trivial,”” he said. “”They’re utilizing an uplink and using bridging to go to other locations. If you have an IT person that understands networking, wireless is easy to set up.””

On a regular tour date, Griffith says he’s only supporting about 50 users, but Wednesday’s concert, which also includes Rush, Justin Timberlake and AC/DC, among others, will at least triple that, he said. When machines crash or new software needs to be installed, they come to Griffith.

“”I’m it,”” he said. “”I’m the guy . . . once you get it configured the way you want to, and once you figure out the dynamics of each venue, I can just about roll it out myself.””

Griffith said he had enjoyed his time with the Rolling Stones, and had plenty of stories to tell. He shared a few of them via telephone from the concert stage at Downsview Park the day before the concert. Given the fact that this show was put together so quickly, how did you decide what kind of equipment would meet your needs?

Todd Griffith: I’m the IT guy for the Rolling Stones world tour, so we’ve been using this 3Com equipment for the entire tour — almost a year. I was familiar with the configuration, how to set it up, any little anomalies that I might run into given the scope of this project. 3Com, once they heard about this, were more than happy to hand over their technology to fit this venue and to get this complete area wireless. This crowd is literally eight to nine times larger than what we normally play, and the venue is eight to nine times larger.

ITB: Where does wireless become critical during the show?

TG: Most of the push for the wireless is prior to the show. We have a lot of CAD drawings and venue drawings that get passed back and forth between the Rolling Stones production team. There’s a lot of that going back and forth. Also, because of the way the tour works and the actual staffing, a lot of the times the tour crew don’t get a chance to check e-mail and to do business. By the time the Rolling Stones production crew hits a venue, I get the wireless up and deployed, then what the crew does, since they haven’t been online in a day or two — because we’ve been travelling on a bus or a plane — a lot of business takes place prior to the shows. Once the show starts, the focus is on the show and the demand for wireless wanes until the end of the show where it picks up again. People start letting people know we’re on time, we’re leaving soon, and what we need for the next venue.

ITB: Who are the users here? When you say the crew, is it the people handling lights and sound, the managers?

TG: It’s everybody. It goes from the backline people who do all the interactions with the instruments and band through to the lighting crew, the sound crew, the video crew. The primary push is the production staff who oversee the whole operation.

ITB: How much time do you typically have to set it up once you’re on site?

TG: I do a lot of pre-planning, of course, to coordinate drops and where I need them and how they should configure the DSL lines. Or in some cases, in India, an ASDL line that was strung through some trees in the middle of a field. When I hit the ground with the production staff, it generally takes me two to three hours to get the venue deployed wirelessly.

ITB: This show features a number of other acts. Do they have their own network or is your network simply being used by the larger group?

TG: We took the Rolling Stones wireless system and then basically I’ve expanded it with the help of (sponsor) Molson’s, and we’ve added four or five other components to encompass the press tents here. Molson’s basically said, “”If you’re going to do the wireless for the Rolling Stones, can you also increase the scope and do the site?”” The rollout was relatively easy to do — the addition of some more access points. With the help of 3Com, Bell and Molson’s, we’ve basically got the majority of the stage area, backstage area and press tents covered in high-speed wireless.

ITB: Is there any part of the site that isn’t based on a wireless infrastructure?

TG: Well, every now and then you get a renegade end-user that, for whatever reason, you can’t get a wireless card working on their PC. In that case, we’ll plug directly into an Ethernet port on their machine. In other cases, just due to location of where maybe the backstage is, or the front of the house is, I may run Ethernet cable as opposed to the B2B bridges. So, in some instances I do have to hard-wire it and run Ethernet cable a certain length, but I’d say 80 per cent of the time, I can get what I need without having to run a lot of cable. And there are no devices that spend on a strict connection.

ITB: And the applications we’re talking about — are they all business applications or is there anything more bandwidth-intensive that are related to the production?

TG: Our Web team is out here. Every now and then they’ll do an interview or a video capture of a song and in some instances, after they edit that, they will FTP that to the Rolling Stones’ Web site and have it available to the fan club the next day. That was the case, especially in India, because it was tough to find high speed in certain areas.

ITB: Earlier we talked about all the acts using your network, but is there anyone on site using something that could cause interference?

TG: Not that I’m aware of. Every now and then you get a promoter or somebody who will have their own wireless network. We discover each other pretty quick and then we just take steps to make sure we don’t step on each other’s toes.

ITB: Do the artists use much technology themselves?

TG: They do, funnily enough. Mick (Jagger) is really technology-savvy and very much likes not only use the PC for everyday uses like e-mail, but he’s a rabid sports fan. He likes to keep up to date and even stream cricket matches and English football matches. We were on tour in Asia and he would listen to cricket and in one instance we set up a high-speed connection in his hotel room to a large flat-panel TV and I pumped the video directly so he could watch the cricket World Cup He likes the latest toys and things like that. The other band members use it to get things like e-mail, but Mick’s the main one.

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