Olympic IT survives competitive onslaught

Two days after the closing ceremony and the foyer of the Olympic IT Centre is devoid of the physical security checkpoints that...

Two days after the closing ceremony and the foyer of the Olympic IT Centre is devoid of the physical security checkpoints that protected the 2002 Winter Olympics Games' digital heartbeat.

Even the security barriers that once protected individual floors at the Wells Fargo building in Salt Lake City were removed.

These Olympics passed without serious incident, according to IT SchlumbergerSema the IT services company behind the scenes. There were no flagrant security breaches or spectacular computer system failures.

"We didn't have any [problems] that affected the users," said Jason Durrant, director of systems integration and testing for local integrator Satel, which was subcontracted to work on the project by SchlumbergerSema. "Things went better than expected."

SchlumbergerSema staff spent more than 4,500 man-hours before the games running simulations and field tests at other events under the watchful eye of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

On the security side, the events of 11 September spurred greater attention to physical protection of data assets.

Stability and security
With four more Olympic Games to host over the coming years, beginning with Athens in 2004, SchlumbergerSema has sought to build a stable and secure IT systems platform from the ground up that will serve as a platform for the coming years.

"We really shied away from anything bleeding edge," Durrant said. That approach saw the company stick to Oracle 8i for its database needs, for example, rather than adopt the latest release. The IT infrastructure also included 145 Sun Solaris and iPlanet-based Unix boxes, two of Sun's StoreEdge storage units, Veritas clustering software, 4,500 Gateway PCs and notebooks, 145 servers, and 32,000 miles of optical fibre cable. And unlike the days of old when IBM had its finger in the Olympic pie running the 3270 network protocol, this network was 100 percent IP based.

SchlumbergerSema continued to build on Java-based software systems that it initially developed for the 1992 Barcelona Games.

Making up the list of 40 applications and 10 million lines of code was games management software that catered for transport, staffing, and athletes' accreditation needs. In addition, the Information Diffusion System was used to pump games and results data out to the media, Games officials, and athletes via XML to 1,000 terminals. And when it comes to XML itself, Durrant said SchlumbergerSema intends to exploit the protocol beyond simply using it for data transport at the next games.

This entire operation was run by 3,000 IT staff - half of which were professional-grade volunteers - who serviced 40 venues including 10 sporting venues, the Olympic Village, the Main Media Centre, and non-competition venues.

By Durrant's measure it was an "extremely complex" task to mastermind, and unlike IBM's famous IT failure at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, when the systems serving the media centre crashed, it was error free.

Durrant said that when it comes to integration, "typically, we fit things in." But on the flip side, he said part of the organisation's role is to work with the IOC to help "evaluate new technology partners".

And with the likes of Sun as one of the vendors driving integration-related initiatives, the future will tell as to just how well the existing technology platform will support these new partners.

The good news is that the Salt Lake City Games were a raging success, technology or not.

"We're pleased not to be in the headlines," Durrant said.

Read more on IT risk management