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Making sure everything works at the Beijing Olympics

Making sure everything works at the Beijing Olympics

The first of the two technical rehearsals has been completed by the system integrator behind the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Conducted over three days towards the end of April, more than 100 pre-defined operational scenarios were carried out, covering IT systems, communications, IT security and press operations, according to Atos Origin. As the Games IT integrator, the company is responsible for designing, building and operating the whole IT infrastructure.

More than 600 people, including technology professionals from BOCOG, Atos Origin, other Technology Partners, and stakeholders such as Beijing Olympic Broadcasting (BOB) and the official website of Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, participated in the rehearsal operated in real Games time conditions.

The technical rehearsal, known as Technical Rehearsal 1 (TR1), tested areas such as knowledge of operational procedures, communication between support teams and interaction with key customers and stakeholders. Any areas for improvement identified in TR1 will be incorporated into a second and final technical rehearsal in June.

According to Atos Origin, who also ran the IT infrastructure for the previous Olympic Games at Athens in 2004 and Torino in 2006, the number of 600 participants for TR1 for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games nearly equals the number of participants in the second and final technical rehearsal phase (TR2) of the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games. Furthermore, all participants for TR1 played their roles in a manner as if it were actual Games' time, a feat usually achieved only in TR2.

There were also more sports involved in the TR1 for the Beijing Olympic Games than in previous games. In Beijing, a total of 30 sports were involved, whereas for the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, only 24 sports participated in the TR1. In addition, four competition venues participated in the TR1 for the Beijing Olympic Games, exceeding the previous Games in scale.

"We have achieved our objectives for TR1. The entire technology team was fully involved, the simulated competition and scenarios were successfully completed, and knowledge of operational procedures has been greatly increased. Not only did we identify areas of improvement, we have also gained a better understanding of the support required during the Games," says Jeremy Hore, the chief integrator from Atos Origin.

"This time we're not testing so much the systems or the hardware. What we're testing a lot is on the people because at this point in time the systems should be ready and working well, but we have to make sure the people know how to do their job," adds Hore.

During the technical rehearsals, the teams would also introduce problems to let the staff react and deal with the situations. The scenarios could range from the entire staff at the technology help desk coming down with food poisoning, to a crisis where critical data were lost. "So how quickly can we back up that and restore that data to the database?" concludes Hore.

10,000 equals to 200,000

Besides the two technical rehearsals, Hore's team is committed to running tests out of everything possible to ensure nothing goes wrong. Around 10,000 tests cases spent in roughly 200,000 hours would be conducted leading up to the Olympics event.

There will be will nearly 22,000 media representatives and more than four billion people tuning in to watch the Olympics. And any faults in the system will be immediately visible. "We can't say sorry, so we have to constantly imagine scenarios and how we will react to them," says Patrick Adiba, Atos Origin's executive vice president, Olympics and major events.

The underlying IT infrastructure for the 2008 Beijing Olympics is one of the largest ever for a sporting event with 10,000 computers (twice the number used in the 2002 Salt Lake City Games), 1,000 servers, two separately located, purpose-built and exclusive data centers, and 4,800 special result system terminals.

On top of handling the vast number of IT devices, administrators have a further challenge in managing the systems and networks. Events will be held in seven Chinese cities spread across the country, including Hong Kong and Qingdao. The furthest city from Beijing, Hong Kong is about 2000 km away south, making Beijing 2008 will be the most widespread in Olympic history.

These tests cases cover integration tests from the simple integration tests of ensuring Chinese language displays on the public scoreboards at the competition events, to major tests events at competition venues like stadiums.

Good luck, good games

Hore ranks test events as one of the most important tests for his IT teams to conduct. At each Olympics venue, trial competitions will be run and Hore's teams will have their systems to test how the software copes throughout the trial.

"Those for each sport that happens in the Olympic Games we have one of those at least before the Olympic Games. This year there were 12 at the same time so it's what's called a cluster test events. It is called the good luck Beijing test events. We had people in all of those venues, testing the systems and providing support remotely as well to ensure that things are going well," says Hore.

However, it is difficult to simulate fully the Olympics, concedes Hore. One solution is to have a very clear testing strategy. There are already tests that were already conducted two years before the actual games.

"We have to find as many different ways as we can to ensure that we can test the software, test the system, test the people to ensure that we simulate that as much as possible. Really just to make sure that the testing process and particularly the system test process is as exhaustive and as detailed as possible to make sure we do as much testing as we possibly can."

Exceptional testing helps the IT teams cover the unexpected. The systems have to be able to cope with for instance, a doping situation and when a competitor is disqualified, and then the display and result systems have to be able to react accordingly. The systems would also have to be smart enough to display the right result to the spectators and media in the rare situation where two gold medals are given out, says Hore.

"We try to create many different situations as possible. Many are based on experience, based on the requirements of the sport, to deal with not only I would say the happy part, but also the unhappy part, in those exceptional situations."

"We simulate situations like that to make sure that we have a procedure for it. The procedure has been tested and to make sure the people know what to do in that situation. Really that's one of the ways that we can make sure that we're operationally ready for the Olympic Games," concludes Hore.

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