Olympian task

Olympian task

We travel to Beijing and find out how disaster can be avoided during the Olympic Games 2008.

The pressure on the IT systems running the 17-day Olympic Games 2008 may not be much different from supporting a nuclear power station. There is no margin for error, deadlines are rock-solid, multifarious and complex information and communication systems must be smoothly integrated. It would be a major catastrophe, instantly obvious to the world, should anything go wrong. "We will have nearly 22,000 media representatives who will be accredited to use our systems, and if something goes wrong, it will be immediately visible," says Patrick Adiba, executive vice president of Atos Origin, the global IT partner for the Olympic Games 2008.

"We have to have a strategy or back-up for any potential problem."

Testing makes perfect

To ensure all potential problems have a back-up, a massive IT testing programme was launched three years ago. The programme includes a special testing lab residing in a looming windowless Beijing building.

The testing and stressing programme involves more than 50 applications from across the globe, more than 200,000 hours (one year) of trials and more than 100,000 test cases.

According to Adiba, any software, technology, or hardware currently in the market is being used for the Games IT systems. For complete security, the core Games network will not be connected to the internet, nor will it involve wireless facilities "inside the main security fence".

Wi-fi, Adbia says, is simply not yet considered "safe enough". Nevertheless, event results are expected to be available for journalists via the wireless information service outside the core network.

In addition, for the first time, in the 2008 Olympic Games, there will be real-time bi-lingual display of event results, which will be in Chinese characters, alternating with English.

Supporting the development and implementation of these technologies is Paris-based IT service provider Atos Origin. The company is responsible for integrating, managing and securing the vast technology systems that bring the Games to the world.

Olympic IT integration

Under the supervision of the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG), Atos Origin is the Games IT integrator, responsible for designing, building and operating the whole IT infrastructure.

The company also designed, built and refined a suite of applications that cater for Beijing's unique situation that will power the Olympic Games. The company estimates that it will use about 40 per cent of systems, procedures and documentation from the previous Olympics, with the rest being developed for the 2008 event.

The technology infrastructure includes 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 centres, and 4,800 special result system terminals.

The IT responsibilities also include the digital accreditation of more than 200,000 people, including 10,500 Olympic athletes, coaches, officials, staff, volunteers and news media, through systems that are linked to the police, security forces and immigration.

When the Games start on 8 August 2008, Atos Origin is expected to have up to 5,000 IT team members, including 1,000 trained volunteers, stationed at 51 competition and non-competition venues.

This Olympic IT team no option but to win a gold medal. A unique challenge for the Olympic IT team, however, is to lead and manage a consortium of nine technology suppliers and partners, who do not have a contractual relationship with them. They are all contracted to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) or BOCOG.

Games in seven cities

Another challenge for the team is the extensive Olympic event venues; the most widespread in Olympic history. The games will be held in seven Chinese cities spread across the country, with the northern pole in Qingdao (Sailing) and southern pole in Hong Kong (Equestrian).

Despite these challenges, the Olympic IT team is determined to win. "When we run the Olympics, we have to make sure the technology works all the time," says Adiba. "You can't re-run the final of the 100 metres because you weren't ready with the timing or the data, it's just unacceptable."

Fairfax Business Media

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