The orchestration of it services for the Athens Olympics next year has taken a 180-degree turn from those carried out for the 2000 Sydney or 1996 Atlanta summer games.
While the mantra for those earlier Olympics IT efforts might have been "showcase leading-edge technology," the Athens, Greece, mantra is "test, test, test" before the games begin next August.
With SchlumbergerSema leading the players in a consortium of sponsors and IT providers, the first full-blown dress rehearsal of the massive IT project was completed in August at a live sporting event. It was the first time the testing was completed a full year ahead of the games. The test was deemed a success.
The International Olympic Committee, following the completion of its contract with IBM after the Sydney games, shrugged off the one-stop-shop approach. It chose to bid out a long-term contract for four games to a consortium of providers working with a global systems integrator, starting with the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter games.
The plan was to have a better view of the preparation process so that the IOC could limit the risks and better control costs, according to Philippe Verveer, director of IT for the IOC in Lausanne, Switzerland.
"To have successful games, we have the strategy of using long-term contracts, but [we] build a team for each organizing committee. Between the different parties and the organizing committee, they are responsible for delivering the games and controlling the progress of the project. We also have a project called View, where we are able to observe the progress and put on the table the issues we have and assign people to resolve those issues," explained Verveer.
To minimize the risks and control costs, the new approach is to reuse as much of the IT infrastructure as possible from one Olympics to the next. So the basic technology and application architectures are the same as those used in the Salt Lake City games.
And unlike other types of IT projects, the organizing committees have to get it right the first time. "You cant rerun a race. Thats why we have comprehensive testing starting in the [1,000-square-meter] Integration Lab. With 37 different disciplines, we are testing all special cases that could occur during a competition, working with all volunteers and professional staffs," said Verveer.
Altogether, the team will spend more than 200,000 hours in the largest dedicated Integration Lab ever built for the Olympics "with 40 to 50 people working on testing using thousands of test cases," said Claude Philipps, SchlumbergerSemas IT manager for the Athens Olympics.
On top of the live testing event last August, which tested all critical IT functions including the key GMS (Games Management System) and IDS (Information Diffusion System) suites, the consortium will spend the next year running what-if scenarios and building contingency plans.
"Fifty days before the opening ceremonies, we have the Technical Rehearsal where, at the last moment, we try to create events by a shuttle team to create problems to see if the team is responsive and does the right thing," Philipps said. Such simulations could include a fire in a control room, a terrorist or hacker attack, and so on.
Along with the testing, SchlumbergerSema is also creating a master plan for the Olympics technical operations that can be passed on from one Olympic Games to the next, ensuring that "good and bad lessons in Athens" are applied to subsequent games, according to Jean Chevallier, vice president of marketing for the Olympics program at SchlumbergerSema, in Paris. The plan describes what happens in the years leading up to the games for the technology partners. In addition, at least 10 members of the technical team for the 2008 Beijing games are in Athens to learn what it takes to run the games well.
At the heart of IT operations in Athens will be the Technical Operations Center, where some 130 IT workers will monitor and control IT functions being performed at about 60 venues in and around Athens. The 24-by-7 Operations Center will monitor not only applications but also the interactions among companies working together. It is also where a crisis team can be put together.
The GMS is made up of nine applications including the key accreditation system, which provides a different level of access to the games and its resources. It is used to register press, athletes, staff, contractors and others. The identification badges issued from the system are also used as an entry visa into the particular country that is hosting the games, so it must be able to link to different databases from institutions such as immigration bureaus.
The GMS includes the sports entries application, which manages the sports rules and is used to help the IOC choose the right athletes to invite to the games, said Philipps.
While the GMS applications suite runs on Windows 2000 servers and SQL Server databases, IDS runs on Sun Microsystems Inc.s Solaris and an Oracle Corp. database. Among the six applications in the IDS are the Print Distribution, Internet Data Feed and Commentator Information systems. The applications at the Athens games will run on 450 Intel Corp.-based and 450 Solaris servers.
The systems provide a special feed to world news press agencies as well as the IOCs Olympic News Service, which has a Web-based extranet that produces stories, event results, athlete interviews and so on in English, French and Greek. Results will be fed to 2,500 information kiosks throughout Athens.
Along with the Operations Center, the IT team runs several Venue Data Centers, a Primary Data Center where central servers are located, and a secondary data center outside Athens in a different earthquake zone. The central databases for the systems are duplicated in the secondary data center for complete redundancy. "In case we lose a PDC to flood, fire, terrorism—we can move to the secondary data center," said Philipps.
The LANs and WANs, set up by a local Greek carrier, Hellenic Telecommunications Organization S.A., dubbed OTE, include two routes from each venue.
Because its not an option to fail at timing or scoring for the games, IDSs Information Acquisition System takes results in three ways—one manually and two automatically. And in a nod to the skating scoring controversy from the past Winter Olympics, once the information has been acquired, "nobody can touch it," said SchlumbergerSemas Chevallier. "Theres no way you can come back 10 seconds later and change the score," he said.
As the global systems integrator for next years games project, SchlumbergerSema is responsible for strategic planning, IT consulting, systems integration, operations management, IT security and applications development.
In addition, the company is orchestrating the work of the IT consortium, made up of The Swatch Group Ltd., a Swiss company providing scoring and timing devices; Xerox Corp., providing all print-related equipment; Eastman Kodak Co., providing cameras and badge printing; Sun, for Unix servers; Dell Inc., for Intel-based servers and PCs; Samsung Corp., for cell phones; and OTE, handling networking.
Before Sema plc. was acquired by Schlumberger, Sema had won the contract to run IT for the Athens Olympics because it was familiar with the IT effort at previous games and because its proposal closely matched the IOCs goals.
Although that is double the size of the Salt Lake City games budget, the Athens games will be twice as large, said Verveer.
SchlumbergerSema, eager to prove it can save the IOC money and reduce risk, is "reusing as much as possible (from Salt Lake City to Athens). And were not reinventing the applications; we are just doing a bit of customization," said Chevallier.
Despite the risk-averse nature of the IOC, the Athens games will not be without some experimentation with new technologies. In a small prototype project, contest results will be delivered to about 1,000 PDAs used by IOC members, officials, members of the media and others. "We want to use proven technology, but at the same time, we want to progress with it. The idea is to deliver results using a new piece of technology to better inform [the IOC] and the media," said Verveer.