No second chance in Olympic IT race

A marathon contest longer and more complex than any race at the Olympic Games is unfolding behind the windowless facade of Digital Beijing.

This secretive, slate-black tower complex that looks like a row of computer chips stands close by the two most famous Olympic venues — the National Aquatics Centre, known as the Water Cube, and the National Stadium, or Bird’s Nest.

Inside, computer systems operated by information technology giant Atos Origin are being tested and perfected to ensure the smooth running of the August 8 to 24 Games.

Atos Origin is the information technology partner for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) with the job of designing, building and operating the invisible IT infrastructure that supplies results, events and athlete information to the media, spectators and the world.

It also designs the platforms for accreditation, transportation, hotel accommodation and other services without which the Olympics would fall apart.

On the 11th floor of Digital Beijing, a banner trumpets the slogan ”At the Olympic Games, there is no second chance.”

Known and unknown risks are analysed and every system is backed up by a plan B, plan C, or even a plan D.

”We have a very high degree of redundancy [backup],” said Patrick Adiba, the firm’s vice-president responsible for the Olympics and major events.

That backup includes an entire replica data centre set up at a secret location elsewhere in Beijing that will kick in if the main centre fails.

”We just have to be ready with a response to known and unknown problems,” said Adiba.

Atos Origin has been running the IT platform for every Olympics since 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games and has signed on to do the same for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games and the 2012 London Summer Olympics.

”Salt Lake City were the first Games where IT security was a very key focus,” said Adiba.

”Since then, it is a constant race where there is new technology and new techniques and you have to fine-tune your system and I am pretty sure Vancouver and London will be the same too.”

Jeremy Hore, the chief integrator for computer systems, said testing was the key to success for a complex operation.

”We test and we test and we test again. We test not only the systems, but also the people,” he said. ”We probably do around 200 000 hours of testing.”

The full gamut of Olympic Games events has already had two complete dry runs at Digital Beijing.

Full simulations in October and January crammed the 17-day Games into just eight seven-hour days, ramping up the speed and intensity of the real-time Olympic experience in order to gauge the capacity of the multimillion-dollar computer network.

More tests are planned at the end of March and in June focusing more on the ability of the personnel employed by Atos Origin to cope with three days of peak Olympic activity.

While the operations team goes to work, a shadow team will be working against them, throwing spanners into the works to cause as much chaos as possible.

”Everybody plays the role they will play during the Games and we see if they are trained and ready,” said Hore. – Sapa-AFP

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