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Commonwealth Games 2002

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Friday, 8 February, 2002, 11:33 GMT
The power behind the Olympics
ITC, SchlumbergerSema
Information Technology Center: The nerve centre
Making sure the technology behind the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City runs smoothly is a mammoth task, which has taken three years to set up, as BBC News Online's Jane Wakefield reports.

Relaying results, events and information from the Winter Games to spectators and the media around the world is an Olympian task.

On top of that there is security clearance and access to the venues for over 80,000 coaches, officials and athletes to deal with.

And then there is the co-ordination of transport schedules, health care resources and accommodation.

This year, a newcomer is taking over from IBM, the firm that had powered the games for the last 40 years.

New York company SchlumbergerSema will be providing the infrastructure in Salt Lake City and for the next four games.

Challenging environment

Creating a network for the games is a huge job in itself. SchlumbergerSema, working with 14 other technology providers, has created 10 million lines of software code at a cost of $300m.

The network will use 32,000 miles of optical fibre cable, comprising of 225 computer servers, 1,850 fax machines, 1,210 printers and 4,500 workstations and laptops.

It will need a team of 3,000 techies just to administer it all. SchlumbergerSema's chief integrator for the 2002 Olympics, Robert Cottam, is confident that things will run smoothly, although he admits it has been a huge challenge.

Robert Cottam, SchlumbergerSema
Cottam: Hoping all will go smoothly
He has personally been overseeing operations in Salt Lake City for the last three years and says the environment has provided interesting challenges.

"Some of the temperatures have been minus 25 Fahrenheit (-32 Celsius) and some of the venues are on mountains which take months and months to wire up," he says.

In those kind of temperatures, it is vital that the computers are kept warm so heating the venues has been a key priority.

Conservative approach

Mr Cottam will be hoping to avoid the public relations disaster that faced IBM during the Atlanta Games in 1996.

Olympic tech facts
776BC: Use of first mechanical starting gates
1924: First live radio broadcast
1932: Stopwatch and photofinish introduced
1936: First televised games
1960: Computer punch card used
1964: Results stored on computers
1996: First ever Olympic Games website
Dubbed the Glitch Games, Big Blue's complex and expensive system for reporting results proved less than reliable, with many of the journalists ditching the system in favour of the old-fashioned fax.

The infrastructure put in place by SchlumbergerSema will cover 15 different sports in 15 different venues and will provide news commentators with up-to-the-second facts and figures on every sport and competitor.

The nerve centre of operations will be the Information Technology Center, which will be the Olympic equivalent of a Nasa control room.

Not surprisingly, the firm has opted for the "conservative approach" with little innovative technology.

"People ask when we are going to use wireless but at the moment we don't consider wireless to be reliable enough," said Mr Cottam.

After three years of preparation, Mr Cottam and his team are understandably nervous as the Winter Games get under way.

"Huge projects like this always have their challenges and the biggest challenge of all is knowing the games are about to start.

"Usually with systems like this there is leeway for discussion. But with the Olympics the date cannot slip," he says.

See also:

06 Feb 02 | Funny Old Game
Let's Play: Salt Lake 2002
06 Feb 02 | Americas
Ground Zero flag set for Olympics
04 Feb 02 | Sci/Tech
Digital gear gives luge the edge
07 Feb 02 | Front Page News
Security tight in Salt Lake City
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