Networking the Pan Am Games

Keeping track of which athletes won which events at the recent Pan American Games in Winnipeg was difficult enough when watching it on TV. But for the technology division at the Games, making sure all scores and plays were available at the touch of a button was its job.

An event-wide network was used for results, said Cliff Durston, vice-president of technology for the Pan Am Games.

“The purpose of the network is to collect the results from the Games,” he said during a telephone interview earlier this month while the Pan Am Games were still taking place. “The results are actually done at the (sports) venue, and then they are sent to the central server and distributed to a number of places, including the main media centre and the international broadcast centre.”

The network encompassed approximately 81 IBM servers and 400 IBM PCs. At the centre of the network operation was a system comprised of Unix-based RS/6000s. The network itself was running Windows NT on IBM Netfinity servers and was monitored at the event’s data network centre.

“The data network centre needs to know exactly what’s on-line in real-time, at any given time,” Durston said. “All of the devices on the network are kept alive through a system of pings.”

Cisco routers connected the sports venues to the central site and IBM switches were used for the venues’ local area networks, Durston said.

Al Hykaway, systems manager for the technology department at the Games, said there were two major routers located at the central site. One was the primary router which supported a T-3 connection, while the other was connected to back-up lines.

“We had approximately 40 locations that were running anywhere from a T-1 to a 64Kbps line,” Hykaway explained. “The high-profile venues (approximately 12) would have two routers running in stand-by mode.”

When it came time for the IT department to choose which network management tool to use, it found Ottawa-based Loran Technologies’s Kinnetics Network Manager met most of its concerns.

Durston explained that telecom network provider Manitoba Telecom Services monitored the backbone of the network at the router level. But Kinnetics Network Manager was used to manage the switches in the venue LANs.

“What we wanted to do was get down into the network of the switches, and that’s why the Kinnetics system was chosen,” he said.

The results from each of the events were distributed across the network in a print file format, ensuring the data was not changed.

“That is to keep the integrity of the printed copy,” Durston explained, “exactly the same as the official has approved.”

According to Hykaway, there were 191 Xerox printers attached to the network.

“Some are results printers,” he said. “As they ran an event, and the results were in, they could print it off that printer and get it signed by the official.”

He explained that there were other printers designated for media use only, located in places such as the Panasonic International Broadcast Centre, the Xerox Main Media Centre and some of the sport villages.

“These other printers are called auto-print or reprint printers,” Hykaway said. “When an event becomes official, they (the officials) send the result to the central results system.”

The central results system then distributed the official information to all the print stations, allowing the media to call up any information they required, including medal counts, daily results and start lists.

“We had to manage those devices also because we wanted to make sure the queue line didn’t fill up,” Hykaway said.

There was another service on the network that allowed results to be seen from “a series of drill-down terminals called an info-system,” Durston said.

“The info-terminals were basically an intranet type of set-up for the media to allow them to get information,” Hykaway explained.

Those terminals were used strictly by the media and members of the Games staff to get information. But there were various other terminals on the network — some were used by technical staff to simply configure a sporting event, while others, such as data-entry terminals, might have been used to plug in information from a field of play.

“For example,” Durston explained, “in a basketball game, they would feed in that player number 19 took a shot from 30 feet and either missed or scored. That would be called in at the field of play, and would be entered in at real-time.”

The information entered was used to calculate the final score, for statistical purposes and for television graphics.

“While a play is going on, the television people can call up a particular on-screen graphic, which will show the progress of the game to date,” Durston said.

“The info-system is an application normally running on touch-screen-type devices, but we just used a regular PC with a mouse,” Hykaway explained, adding that the application used at the Games was called Info 99. “We had 105 info-terminals, and 103 printers. We couldn’t afford the bandwidth to have it running to every venue,” he said, explaining why not all printers and PCs on the network were attached to the info-system.

In some cases, the IT department opted to put in Internet terminals in place of the info-terminals, allowing the media the same access to information.

Durston said the system also included programming downloads for the various sports.

“Each sport would have its own particular and peculiar software system that would run that sport. Those can be programmed centrally and downloaded over the network,” he said.