XML, Web services to share Olympic podium

Every Olympic year the Games provide the opportunity for athletes to prove they can turn in championship performances under the pressure of premier international competition.

At next month’s Winter Games in Salt Lake City, SchlumbergerSema Ltd., the technology service company behind the Olympic network, hopes to prove that XML can handle that same pressure with the grace of a figure skater, the speed of a bobsledder and the accuracy of a biathlete.

And in the 17 days of Olympic events, IT executives will get a battle test on XML and Web services, middleware or application code, based on a collection of XML-based protocols, as a key integration technology for corporate systems.

“The unique aspect of our network is the massive amount of integration,” says Jason Durrant, director of system integration and technology for SchlumbergerSema. “We have been building and testing it for three years.”

SchlumbergerSema, which this year replaces IBM Corp. as the architect of the Olympic network, used XML to integrate 30 disparate systems that tie together everything from timing/scoring devices to custom applications to the participant management system. The network, which uses SONET on the WAN and 100M-byte Ethernet on the LAN, spreads across 40 Olympic venues, two data centers and a mission-control facility in and around Salt Lake City.

“It is mainly a data distribution network,” Durrant says. “We calculate some rankings at the event site, but the key is distributing event data throughout our systems.”

The Olympic network includes 40 applications, 4,500 workstations and laptops, 225 servers, 145 Unix boxes and 32,000 miles of fibre-optic cable. It is run by 3,000 IT staff during the Games.

Where IBM took a mostly single-vendor approach, SchlumbergerSema has assembled a consortium of vendors, including Sun, Cisco, Microsoft, Oracle, Xerox, Kodak and Seiko, and tied their products together using custom-written transport protocols, queuing mechanisms and guaranteed delivery technology based on XML.

The project started more than two years ago when SchlumbergerSema began developing two XML-based protocols – the On-Venue Transfer Protocol (OVTP) and the Queuing Protocol (QP) – to support standards-based data transport and guaranteed data delivery between disparate systems.

SchlumbergerSema also developed a specification called ORIS+, an XML representation of the Olympic Results and Information Service (ORIS), which outlines how event results must be represented. ORIS+ defines the contents of XML data packets, which are then moved between systems using OVTP for transport and QP to guarantee delivery.

The model is similar to the Simple Object Access Protocol (message transport) and the Web Services Description Language (packet description), which are foundations of Web services technology. “OVTP worked well out of the box,” Durrant says.

“Most of the real work was in the tweaking of the data content and XML tags used within different products,” he adds.

Durrant says the specifications are being published within the International Olympic Committee so they can be reused, but that they will remain private, proprietary technologies.

SchlumbergerSema also created an XML “shim,” software that provides an interface between 11 On-Venue Results (OVR) systems, which collect timing/scoring data and are built on Microsoft’s Windows NT and SQL Server, and a centralized data-collection system based on Sun hardware and Oracle databases.

The data-collection system is integrated via XML to a suite of SchlumbergerSema custom applications called Info Diffusion, which displays results, athlete biographies, news, weather and travel information.

The OVR systems also feed data to a custom application called Commentator Information System, which provides real-time results to TV and radio commentators, such as split times during racing events.

SchlumbergerSema has completed two successful rounds of stress testing. Part of the system will go live for media on Jan. 25. Event trials begin Feb. 7 with opening ceremonies beginning Feb. 8.

“It is fair to say that the use of XML has played a critical role in the success of our overall integration project,” Durrant says.