» Archive for August, 1996

Atlanta Games Technology Report

Wednesday, August 7th, 1996 by Jonathan Spira

The recent Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia (USA) were an excellent example of the importance of merging technology and information. The pressure was not only on the athletes from 197 nations who participated in the Games, but on the myriad technology companies who, as official Olympic sponsors, were taking advantage of an unprecedented spotlight focused on them and investing the equivalent of at least $40 million in goods and services each.

Attending the Olympics as a guest of corporate sponsor BMW, I had the opportunity to observe the “Technology Games” in action. Upon arrival in Atlanta’s airport, we started off in the Welcome Center, where I noticed the one of the highly-touted kiosks which were part of IBM’s Info 96 system, an information retrieval system intended to provide schedules, information on events and venues, and e-mail for the ca. 150,000 accredited members of the Olympic family. It had crashed, and was not responsive to my queries. Apparently, the rest of the system, located mostly in the Olympic Village and at event venues, functioned well enough and even allowed individuals to page each other.

The Welcome Center itself was one of the many temporary facilities set up to manage the influx of athletes and visitors, all arriving and departing within a short period of time. It was part of an amazing Olympic arsenal which included the deployment of huge amounts of hardware, software and the creation of a vast communications infrastructure: all for the period between July 19th and August 4th.

For example, IBM’s shopping list included:

•more than 7,000 personal computers •80 mid-range AS/400s •three IBM S/390 servers
(or, as we used to call them, mainframes) •16 IBM RS/6000s •3 terabytes of primary data storage backed up at a disaster recovery •site in Tampa, Fla., using Ramac Array (RAID level 5 technology and Remote Copy)

To complement this, there were more than 100 custom-developed applications, including an incident tracking program written in Lotus Notes. This application was created to let users with minimal training record the pertinent facts on anything from a minor accident to a full-fledged crisis, so that security managers could discern and follow trends and patterns.

Unique perhaps to the Olympics was the virtual absence of Microsoft Windows on the desktop; IBM integrated the various systems on the ‘desktop’ with its OS/2 Warp operating system. IBM’s well-publicized difficulties in getting their systems to provide the promised immediate “official results” were unfortunate; but this seemed to have more to do with not enough testing prior to rollout than with any one piece of hardware or software. Data were independently maintained at more than 40 venues; it had to be automatically replicated and synchronized after event officials authenticated the results (which was one unanticipated cause of some of the delays).

Other technology goodies for the Games, from such companies as AT&T/Lucent Technologies, BellSouth, Eastman Kodak, Motorola, Panasonic, Swatch Timing and Xerox, included:

•250 LANs •Three virtual frame relay WANs •45 high-bandwidth, self-healing fiber-optic rings (the largest Sonet ever built) •10,000 voice lines •10,000 two-way radios •80,000 separate cable runs •11,500 video monitors •10,000 copiers •250,000 photo ID badges produced by Eastman Kodak workstations at 35 locations •500 data lines •600 video circuits for 170 international broadcasters

The Panasonic Astrovision stadium display was spectacular; nothing less than crisp and clear in bright sunlight. Swatch Timing collected all timing and scoring results, providing finish-line images, and scoreboard data displays as part of a new digital system.

And the National Weather Service, partnering with IBM and the Forecast Systems Lab of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, implemented RAMS, the Regional Atmospheric Modeling System. RAMS produces an accurate forecast for the next six to 24 hours in an area as small as 2-by-2 kilometers.

For the closing ceremonies, Eastman Kodak supplied each attendee with a disposable camera with built-in flash. The flash was used in a “high-tech” wave, where each person in the audience set off the flash instead of raising his arms. The effect, as the wave made its way around the Stadium, was breathtaking, and a marketing triumph for Kodak.

In short: a tremendous amount of knowledge was amassed about integrating technology for the Olympic Games, a lesson that is certain to be important as the complexity of managing such information increases at future Summer and Winter Games. The individual host city organizing committees and sponsors may not be able to afford to create such complex systems from scratch in the future. Building on the lessons learned in Atlanta will lower the risk and the cost for the future.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.  This article originally appeared in the Basex Online Journal of Industry and Commerce (BOJIC).