Wiring the Beijing Olympics

To callthe upcoming Olympic Games a daunting IT challenge is like saying swimming the Atlantic might require some effort. Notonly are there numerous software and hardware vendors, but the results have tobe delivered in real-time over the Web, and the widespread use of mobiledevices since the last Games have driven demand for quickly-updatedinformation.

"Akey challenge that we face is to manage the complexity of such a big projectwith so many components," says Jeremy Hore, Chief Technology Integratorfor Paris-based Atos Origin, which has been working with the Beijing OrganizingCommittee and a consortium of technology providers to design, implement, andoperate the Games IT systems. The firm was also responsible for implementing ITat the Athens 2004 Olympic Games.

Thesystems, called "information diffusion systems," have been built todistribute real-time competition results and employ about 10,000 PCs, athousand servers, and more than a thousand network devices. Not only will thesystems cover the competition venues, but also include coverage from sevencities across China, Hore notes, and the wholeshebang requires more than 50 different software applications.

In termsof hardware, a major contributor is Lenovo, which will provide more than 20,000pieces of computing equipment, including approximately 700 servers, 800notebook printers, and 2,000 desktop printers. The company will also supply10,000 flat-panel displays. According to Leon Xie, Lenovo’s Director of OlympicSponsorship and Technology.

one ofthe most impressive aspects of the effort is not just its breadth, but how muchhas to be built from the ground up. Xie notes that the company is building the"entire computer equipment apparatus" from scratch, and retoolinglegacy equipment to meet the demands of the Games.

Xie notesthat the most demanding application, the Games Management System, includesaccreditation, staffing and scheduling, transportation, and qualifications."It will process, store, and make available a staggering amount ofdata," he says.

With theinformation diffusion systems, about 50 percent is reused from the lastOlympics, Hore notes, so they don’t have to start from the beginning, but thatstill means that there must be a great deal of new functionality andtechnology.

Withinthe systems, though, are many applications that have been proven in theirindustries, and have a reputation as being reliable technologies. One exampleis ClickSoftware, a workforce management tool used to manage hundreds oftelecommunication technicians during the Games.

"TheOlympics is all about managing people smoothly, and to make sure the networksare operating right," says Moshe BenBassat, ClickSoftware’s CEO. "The time is very intense,and you have to deliver right away, so understanding who is going to go whereto fix a problem is a critical issue."

A particularlythorny challenge for implementation of so much tech is that it can be rolledout over months, but still has to perform, as Xie says, "literallyovernight." Basically, when the Games begin, the "on" switch isflipped for information diffusion, and Hore, Xie, and others will likely justhold their breath and hope for the best.

However,they’re not exactly working on faith. Extensive testing has been a priority,Hore says, and The Beijing Organizing Committee has provided an Integration Labspace that’s 1,300 square meters, with 50 testing cells that allow techniciansto test systems on a sport-by-sport basis.

Testingis particularly important given two new major aspects for these Games comparedto others: more data, and use of Open Source.

"Thenumber of sports has not really increased from Athens, but the amount of results datathat will be produced is much larger," says Hore. "This is becausethere will be more real-time sports statistics, so we have to ensure that ourarchitecture and systems can support this expected load. To achieve this, weperform hundreds of thousands of hours of testing."

The AtosOrigin team has a much more comprehensive test plan for the 2008 Games than inthe past, he notes.

Also, forthe first time, open source technology will be part of the software plan, and Hore saysthe IT team is very happy with the results.

"We still use other softwareplatforms from the traditional software vendors as part of the overallsystem," Hore says. "But including open source has resulted in lower costsfor the Games with a very high level of performance." He adds that insubsequent Olympics, it’s likely that Open Source use will be expanded further.

Horenotes that with the rise of mobile devices, the demand for Web-delivered video,and the popularity of the Games, the push toward implementing cutting-edgestrategies, hardware, and software should be just as much of a constant as thegames themselves.

And thebiggest sign of success that all these tens of thousands of components areworking properly is that the experience will be flawless for viewers who arewatching jumbo screens from their stadium seats, Web video from their couches,or results postings from their PDAs.

"Atevery Olympics, you have four years of cultural and technological change sincethe last Games," says BenBassat. "So you do everything you can tomake it perfect for this one brief moment in time."