Cover Story: Technology providers limber up for Sydney 2000 Olympics

  • IDG staff (Computerworld)
  • 24 September, 1999 12:01

Come September 15, 2000,10,200 athletes, 5100 officials, 15,000 media representatives and millions of spectators will descend on Sydney for the most anticipated and watched sporting event of the world.

The Sydney 2000 Olympic Games will probably be remembered in sporting circles through the records broken, medals awarded and shattered dreams. In technology circles, it will be remembered as the end of an era; since 1960 IBM has provided infrastructure and systems to Olympic Games organisers.

A year out from the Games, Luisa Bustos spoke with key Olympic technology providers IBM and Telstra, and SOCOG general manager for IT, Dennis Lock, on preparations for Sydney 2000 and concerns during Games time. . . .

IBM's Olympic program office executive Vickie Regan was recently given a novel to read. It apparently contains references to the Olympics and potentially disastrous scenariosWhile it may be a little too close to the bone for Regan, who is heading up IBM's Sydney 2000 Olympic team, she insists she is sleeping well at night and has never imagined such a disaster for next year's Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.

"I've never really thought of [my most frightening scenario], because to me we have put and we are putting so much learning into what we're doing now."

Regan is referring to the series of sporting events under way in Sydney throughout September and over the course of the next 12 months.

Just as athletes worldwide are training hard for the Sydney 2000 Olympics, SOCOG, IBM and other technology sponsors and partners are using test events in the run-up to the event to check the IT systems are Games-ready.

"The main purpose of the test events is to really help everyone that's involved," Regan said.

Dennis Lock, SOCOG's general manager for IT, said the test events, and in particular the cluster events held from September 22 to 26, 1999, where seven different sports will run concurrently, are an "excellent opportunity for organisations to practise" procedures.

"There was a view that you did test events purely for the technology level, but [it's just as important] at the organisational level," Lock said.

Organisational processes, such as environmental considerations, staffing requirements, field of play restrictions and transportation of equipment, are issues IBM is concentrating on during the test events in addition to the operation of IT systems, Regan said.

"We've been doing a lot of work on understanding the processes and procedures around events, actual games management and systems . . . We're testing everything properly so that we understand what our contingencies should be and we understand what the training modules should be," she told Computerworld.

IBM is the official technology sponsor for the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Its role involves providing and maintaining infrastructure and IT systems, including the results systems, the games management system, the accreditation system, the commentator information system and Info database for SOCOG. In addition, IBM is developing and supporting the official Games Web site.

Other technology sponsors include Telstra, Samsung, Panasonic, Swatch and Fuji Xerox.

According to Regan, with just under a year until the Games kick off, IBM has already put a lot of technology in place.

Systems are coming on line as test events are scheduled and IBM is building its capabilities as each event is run, Regan said. "Our baseline is Nagano [Winter Olympics 1998]. We're bringing in the information system, Info 98, some of the games management system and also infrastructure and the commentator information system," Regan said.

"These are being brought into Sydney and obviously [tailored]. We're bringing them forward for the movement in technology and the client's needs and wants," she said.

"Basically the infrastructure is pretty much the same."

Keeping technology and infrastructure stable and reliable has been a key concern for all Olympic technology providers.

In order to ensure proven and tested equipment and systems are deployed during Games time, SOCOG enforced a technology cut-off date at the end of last year, preventing new technologies from being used.

Brian Pilbeam, Telstra's national general manager, special events and Olympics 2000, said: "We've got no bleeding edge technology in this . . . we're providing standard, up-to-date services.

The issue here is not to go into any high-risk area but to provide solid, reliable, proven services.

"The technology is pretty straightforward. There is nothing that's stretching us from a technology point of view," David Conolly, Telstra's technology manager for the Sydney 2000 Olympics, added.

Taking on the role of what up to five different providers have done at previous Games, Telstra is supplying all telecommunications and network services to SOCOG and other technology sponsors. In its role as official telecommunications provider, Telstra is operating several different telephony services including mobile networks and a trunk radio network, video audio networks, a cable TV network, and a data network.

Key to the whole network and IT operations of the Games is Telstra's data network called the Millennium Network.

Partly in operation today, this is the equivalent of a "very large" data network, Conolly said.

"Absolutely everything for the Games is handled by this network," Conolly said, adding that it covers all sporting venues, SOCOG's headquarters, two main data centres, IBM's headquarters, as well as the Main Press Centre, International Broadcasting Centre and non-competition venues.

"[The network] is built on SDH (synchronous digital hierarchy) type transmission. It is totally redundant and backed up with dual services at every venue out to the two data centres [which] are actually backing each other up," Conolly said.

"The network is basically close to 50 per cent up. We've had the core of it up -- SOCOG's headquarters, the two data centres, IBM's headquarters and those major links -- for some months. Since then we've been hooking up individual venues to that backbone as required."

Conolly said Telstra is expecting the entire network to be up and operational by the end of the year.

Once venues come online, all the equipment and networks stay live until the Games, Pilbeam said.

"So by the time Games time comes around, I've got a nice, burnt in, solid, reliable network. I haven't got something that's new and I don't know what it's going to do," Conolly said.

Whilst all eyes will be on IBM as the main technology supp-lier, Pilbeam said Telstra is keen to perform well as it makes the shift from a pure telecommunications company to a technology company.

"From a Telstra brand perspective, we're very interested in our performance in that IT space around the Olympics. Probably more so than our traditional telephony requirements which are relatively straightforward," he said. "Telephony is big, but it's straightforward. The big thing is the data," Conolly said.

Conolly and Pilbeam are confidant Telstra's performance will be nothing short of outstanding. They are confident Telstra's performance will score highly with local and international customers.

"Olympic customers didn't judge Atlanta kindly. There were numerous stories of confusion, frustration and performance issues. With five suppliers, it was often unclear who was responsible for faults and rectification," Pilbeam said.

Problems that occurred in Atlanta will be an unlikely scenario for Sydney 2000, they said.

"It would be extremely unlikely for any of the glitches and problems that occurred in Atlanta to reoccur here in Sydney," Pilbeam said.

"As the single supplier of integrated services, Telstra will be visibly responsible and that just adds to the challenge of doing it better than anyone has done before," he said.

"It doesn't pay to be over confident, but when a story is written on Sydney 2000 Olympic Games communications, I'm expecting that local and international customers will give Telstra high scores on being easy to work with, responsive and importantly, for being highly competent and reliable."

"If there was some 'shock horror' problem, with all the diversity [in the network] there's enough redundance so the services will not get affected at all," Conolly said.

According to Pilbeam, hurdles that may cause hiccups for Telstra will not be directly related to the networks and services being put in place now.

Rather, they will be more concerned with non-Olympic customers and relatively new, unknown services.

"If we've got a problem, it could be around simply provisioning late requests and orders which are not directly connected with the Games but may be to support some of the new customers outside the Olympic venues," Pilbeam said.

"Some of those requirements are going to be hard to anticipate because we probably won't know until a couple of weeks beforehand.

"I think a lot of unknowns are in the Main Press Centre. We're expecting there will be an increase in usage of digital cameras, digital imaging, scanning, and transmission that could occupy a lot of bandwidth," Pilbeam said.

Regan is equally confidant IBM's performance will be in line with, if not better than, previous Games.

"The Olympics keep progressing and therefore the technology requirements also progress and become more complex," she said.

"As integrator for the Games and major IT supplier, it's IBM's responsibility to ensure that the technology is there to do what is required for each and every aspect of the Games and that's what we, and our technology partners are working to achieve.

"IBM is beginning to develop contingency plans for each venue and event in anticipation of problems that might occur.

"Nagano had a contingency plan for an earthquake . . .we're not going that far but we are anticipating what could happen and making sure we understand what we can do in [that situation]," Regan said.

With much of the legwork already completed for the Games, Regan said she is not concerned about technology problems during the Games period.

"For me during Games time, I will be concerned for my people.

"They will obviously know what they are doing and I will be concerned with making sure they're feeling good.

"My role is to ensure that everything is as expected." So what will make a successful Games from a technology point of view? Zero downtime, no network glitches, seamless integration . . . it won't be world records or gold medals, that's for sure.

"Our measure of success is transparency," Lock said.

"If people have not noticed the technology, then we've done a good job."

And is IBM planning to go out with a big bang to mark its last Olympics as technology sponsor and provider?

"The biggest bang will be to have a successful Olympics and we are 100 per cent focused on that," Regan said.

Olympic tackle

Hardware and software IBM expects to supply for the Games:

9000 IBM PCs and ThinkPads

2000 Info workstations

540 servers

1500 printers

1000 pieces of network gear

Servers: Netfinity 5500, Pentium II 350MHz, between 128Mbyte and 1Gbyte memory, hot-swap hard disks using RAID, fault-tolerant Ethernet connectivityPCs: PC300GL-II, Pentium II 350MHz, either 64Mbyte or 96Mbyte memory, 3.2Gbyte ATA hard drive, Ethernet or token ring connectivityPrinters: InfoPrint 20 with Ethernet connectivity and 16Mbyte additional memory; G54 monitors, some converted by MicroTouch to be touch screenTwo RS/6000 SPsTwo 390/R56 Mainframes.

IBM and Lotus software, including:

Lotus Notes

Lotus SmartSuite

DB2 Universal Database


Lotus Domino

Lotus Domino Go Webserver

IBM VisualAge TeamConnection Enterprise ServerTivoli TME 10Net.CommerceNet.DataeNetwork DispatcherMQSeriesStaff requirements600 IBM Australia staff 300 to 400 International IBM staff3500 SOCOG volunteersThree shifts each day for 17 days Telstra facts Telstra expects to supply:

4800 kilometres of optical fibre

30,000 new telephone lines

15,000 mobile phone services

280 video links

3200 audio links

12,000 trunked mobile services

250 data links

12 satellites

Staff requirements:

80 staff in the core Olympic unit

400 staff have some Olympic responsibilities1100 staff added to work directly in network operations and customer operations 2500 staff involved in games activities, jobs