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The bits and bytes of Beijing’s Olympic Games build up

The bits and bytes of Beijing’s Olympic Games build up

Reliability has a far higher priority than cutting-edge technologies in the upcoming games.

The world's attention will focus on Beijing over the next 12 months in the lead up to the Games of the XXIX Olympiad. The city is busily finishing the construction of the major event venues, like the Bird's Nest and Water Cube, where the opening ceremony and swimming events will be showcased. While the Chinese capital is developing trendy and high-tech building architecture, the IT infrastructure that will support the world's greatest sporting event is being based on more conservative and established systems. Wireless networks, radio frequency identification (RFID) and biometric scans may not be dominant, but, according to the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG) and its hardware supplier Lenovo, reliability has a far higher priority than cutting-edge technologies. As the world turns its attention towards next year's staging of more than 300 different events, all happening within 17 days, the IT systems that support the 2008 Olympics cannot afford any failure nor downtime, notes Hou Xinyi, deputy director, technology department of BOCOG.

Back to basics

Despite the endorsement of conservative technologies, the scale of IT infrastructure is massive. Therein lies the challenge. According to Hou, the Olympics IT infrastructure consists of 17 data centers, hosting 900 servers, both Intel-based PC servers and Unix servers, are all connected by 1,500 data network switches and routers. On the user-front, there will be 12,000 desktop computers and 3,000 desktop printers installed.

This hardware supports the software architecture, managed by the IT services partner Atos Origin. The four major applications are the game management system (GMS), the information diffusion system (IDS), the on-venue results (OVR) and the timing and scoring system.

The GMS enables the operation of the event venues, including athletes' accreditation, transportation and medical services arrangements, as well as staffing information. The IDS supports the game results announcements, data feed to the press and the commentators.

New and cutting-edge technologies can still be found at event venues, says the hardware sponsor, Lenovo. Alice Li, Lenovo's vice-president of Olympic marketing, says the latest notebooks and laptops, plus wireless network and other newer technologies, can be found at the internet lounges (i-lounge), where visitors and athletes can access the Net.

"The latest technologies, like Vista systems, can be found at the i-lounge. We will also arrange athletes' visits and other activities there," says Li. "But BOCOG has chosen more mature and reliable systems for the operation of the games."

Years in the making

To ensure all goes well during the event, BOCOG started preparing the IT infrastructure in 2005, says Xie Long, director of Olympic Partnership at Lenovo. Each sponsor sent up to a dozen people to plan the IT infrastructure and application architecture.

He notes that BOCOG has established a list of deadlines and requirements for the IT implementation, including five major milestones and three technology deliveries for Lenovo.

The first technology milestone was the establishment of the BOCOG integration lab, which has been live since October 2006, for testing all the applications and hardware. Technology partners are currently striving for the second milestone.

Xie says Lenovo completed its last technology delivery in July and was currently going through stages towards the second milestone.

Better known as the "Good Luck Beijing" events, this second milestone requires a series of 48 testing events organized by BOCOG from August 2007 to February 2008. These events are taking place at the actual Olympic venues, test-driving all the systems, equipment, work flow and venue facilities.

The third and the fourth milestone will be the two technology rehearsals (TR), scheduled to be held in April and June next year. Xie says the TR1 is a pure technology simulation, but the TR2 will be a comprehensive rehearsal including actual workflow, security and logistics of the event. The last milestone is the actual game implementation.

As the hardware sponsor for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Lenovo's Xie says they had gone through the same milestones and TRs. He adds, during the TR at Torino, that the organizing committee created a high severity scenario by pulling the plug on one of the major servers.

"They were timing us from realizing the problem, identifying the source to finding a solution and fixing the problem," he says. "We believe similar surprise tests will happen at the Beijing Olympic TR, but we are more prepared this time around."

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