IT on track for 2004 Olympics in Athens

The olympian task of developing and implementing the IT infrastructure for the 2004 Olympic Summer Games in Athens is proceeding at an athletic pace, as the Aug. 13 inauguration of the world’s biggest sporting event approaches.

SchlumbergerSema, the games’ lead IT aggregator, already broke a record when it and the International Olympic Committee announced in September that for the first time in Olympic Games history, all critical IT functions were ready for testing during live events one year prior to the start of the games.

“We’re using these months we have left to continue to rehearse and test, try out what-if scenarios, test again. We’re basically in full-testing mode,” said Claude Philipps, SchlumbergerSema’s chief technology integrator of the 2004 Olympic Games, during a recent interview.

SchlumbergerSema, under contract with the International Olympic Committee, is in charge of IT planning, project management, systems integration, software development and IT security, Philipps said. “And during the games themselves we move into operational mode, leading all IT operations,” he added.

SchlumbergerSema is coordinating the work with about 10 other secondary IT vendors, such as Eastman Kodak Co., Xerox Corp., Swatch AG, Dell Inc. and Sun Microsystems Inc. During the games, SchlumbergerSema will oversee an IT staff of almost 4,000 people.

SchlumbergerSema, which by all accounts developed a solid IT infrastructure and ran a very effective IT operation at the Salt Lake City winter games, faces the challenge of duplicating that success but in an event that is much larger in scope.

The Athens games will feature 28 sports organized into 37 disciplines and 300 events to be held at 35 competition venues. That compares with seven sports, 15 disciplines and 78 events in 10 competition venues in Salt Lake City. About 10,500 athletes are expected in Athens, while about 2,400 participated in Salt Lake City. The IT operation is also much bigger, with almost twice as many servers, printers and PCs, and almost three times as many IT staffers involved at games time.

Another curve ball SchlumbergerSema is dealing with is its sale to a new parent company. New York-based Schlumberger Ltd. announced in September that French computer services company Atos Origin SA had agreed to buy the core IT services activities of SchlumbergerSema, a deal that is on track to be finalized in January. However, SchlumbergerSema doesn’t expect the deal to have any adverse effect on the Olympic Games IT work.

“This will not affect the preparation of the games as the team that is in place will be exactly the same,” the company said in a statement. The IT and telecom infrastructure will include a dedicated and secure network connecting 60 competition and noncompetition venues with key IT support sites, such as a technology operations centre that will be the IT command centre during the event, and two redundant data centres, a primary and a backup one, Philipps said. This network isn’t linked to the public Internet to protect it from any possible external attacks. Access to the public Internet will be provided through a secondary network used for noncritical administrative tasks, he said.

The hardware infrastructure will include about 10,000 PCs, 400 Unix servers, 450 Intel-based servers, 2,500 intranet terminals, 2,000 printers and 2,000 fax machines and printers. The telecom infrastructure is very good in Athens, Phillips said. “About 90 per cent of the necessary infrastructure was already in place” and most of the events will be held in or near Athens, which also helps, he said.

“The games are more compact around the city,” unlike, for example, the Salt Lake City games, which involved laying down telecom equipment in mountains where there was none, he said.

Two key sets of applications are involved: the Games Management Systems (GMS) applications, which are designed to automate logistics tasks, such as transportation and accommodations; and the Info Diffusion Systems applications, which will be used to deliver real-time event results, scores and other information to journalists and accredited staff.

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