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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 11 June, 2002, 09:29 GMT 10:29 UK
Games aim for digital precision
Stadium for Manchester 2002
The purpose-built athletics stadium is nearly complete
BBC News Online's Jane Wakefield

With 5,000 athletes in the English city of Manchester for the Commonwealth Games, the challenge is on to make sure the technology runs as smoothly as the athletes.

Over 10 days, their extraordinary athletic feats will be measured with silicon precision by digital devices whose data must find its way instantly to judges and spectators.

Manchester 2002 is the biggest sporting event ever to be hosted in the UK and technology director Gerry Pennell is counting the days until the start of the games on 25 July.

"There are three main challenges for us," he told BBC News Online, "getting all the systems integrated, making sure the infrastructure is in place and ensuring it operates to the highest level."

Relying on Windows

About 200 servers, 1,500 computers, 3,500 radio handsets and 1,000 technical officials will be on hand to make sure the system operates smoothly.

The challenge
2,000 terminals for journalists
150 million hits on website each day
Up to eight million sheets of paper
One billion TV viewers
It is no easy task to fit out 30 venues with hi-tech equipment, especially when some remain open to the public until shortly before the games start and the newly created stadium is still having the finishing touches put to it.

It is the first multi-sport event to operate entirely on Microsoft's Windows 2000 platform and the first time the software giant has been so involved in a sporting event.

As well as being the main technology provider for the games, Microsoft is also one of the sponsors.

According to Mr Pennell, Microsoft was the obvious choice for the mammoth job of delivering the technology for the 10-day event which has 17 different sports, 72 competing nations and one million spectators.

"We began this two years ago which is not a lot of time and the main thing was to keep it simple," he said.

"Microsoft has a platform that worked at the desktop and the server level.

"The applications we needed were available on Windows 2000 and there was one set of skills which has reduced the complexity of what we are doing," he said.

Target for hackers

Admitting that five or six years ago he would have had his doubts about using Microsoft he is now convinced the system will be solid and secure.

But Microsoft's huge profile during the games might prove just too tempting for hackers, warned Graeme Cluley from anti-virus firm Sophos.


We had to step back and ask whether we could automate this or have a man with a clip board

Scott Bowie, Microsoft
"Hackers and virus writers get tremendously excited by Microsoft and the more high profile they are in these games, the more of a temptation it will be to spread viruses and graffiti," he said.

Despite this there is no reason why Microsoft cannot be prepared for such attacks.

"If they do their security right they should be able to put up a solid defence," Mr Cluley added.

Even Microsoft had some second thoughts about getting involved in such a high profile event, said group director Alistair Baker.

"Obviously we want to be associated with the success of the games but also had to worry about putting our name to something if it goes wrong," he said.

Simplicity

He is convinced Microsoft is now up to the challenge.

"Six years ago we wouldn't have dreamed of getting involved in something of this complexity," he said.

Ironically, the watchword for the technology used in the games is simplicity.

"We are not trying to be cutting edge," explained Microsoft's architectural consultant Scott Bowie.

Server room at Manchester 2002 stadium
The games will be powered by traditional tech
"There will be very standard implementations. We had to step back and ask whether we could automate this or have a man with a clip board. Often it is better to go for the man with the clipboard," he said.

Mr Pennell agrees that there will be little room for innovative technology at Manchester 2002.

"We are only investing in technology where we have to. Where we can use manpower, we will use that," he said.

Neither Microsoft's rival operating system Linux nor wireless technology will make it to the finishing line in this event.

Both were considered by the Manchester 2002 team, but a lack of applications on Linux and worries about wireless interference meant neither were considered as realistic options.

Paper run


Journalists love paper. We will get through seven or eight million sheets

Gerry Pennell, Games technology director
One of the main clients of the games will be the media who will need quick and accurate provision of results and other statistics.

As well as providing them with an intranet full of information about athletes and up-to-the minute stats, Mr Pennell and his team will also be relying on a more old-fashioned method of distributing results.

Over 800 volunteers will be employed to run around the 30 different venues with photocopied sheets of results.

"Journalists love paper. We will get through seven or eight million sheets," said Mr Pennell.

The huge amount of technology needed to power the games will come with a price tag.

Mr Pennell would not put an exact figure on the final cost but said it would be a lot less than the 200m spent on the winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

"It will be around 10% of that," he said.


You can hear more about the technical preparations for the Commonwealth Games on the BBC World Service programme Go Digital

See also:

31 May 02 | Science/Nature
03 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
01 May 02 | Other News
12 Mar 02 | Europe
08 Feb 02 | Science/Nature
Internet links:


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