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Tech Industry

IBM hype in Olympic hot seat

Big Blue is hoping a flawless performance at Nagano will make up for its Super Bowl and 1996 summer games glitches.

IBM is hoping a flawless performance at the Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan, will make up for some of the embarrassing glitches it suffered during both this year's Super Bowl and the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, and analysts say Big Blue's strategy might be working.

IBM's technology is being used at the Nagano Games for scoring, compiling statistics, and giving broadcasters up-to-the minute information on the athletes, as well as security and logistical administration. Additionally, IBM has set up an Olympic Village intranet, dubbed Info 98, that offers events, weather, and traffic information.

Designing and implementing the technology that underpins the competition is akin to launching a Fortune 500 company with sophisticated information technology needs, according to IBM. According to some reports, the company has spent almost $100 million on the Olympics to date, with more than 300 employees dedicated to the event.

In its efforts, IBM is trying to rebound from the embarrassing worldwide scrutiny it received during and after the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, dubbed by some as the "Glitch Games." One notable outcome: the European Union demanded reimbursement from the International Olympic Committee for the money it had spent on computer terminals that failed to deliver timely results consistently.

IBM's Web technology came under fire again during this year's Super Bowl. Many complained the site was difficult to access during peak periods before and during the game.

Analysts say a good performance at this year's games could erase any lingering bad feelings the company generated at previous events.

"IBM and its interactive group are clearly the leaders in presenting marquee events," said Mark Hardie, an analyst with Forrester Research. "This will not be a black eye for IBM. It is unlikely that there will be any long-term fallout."

Info 98 is the successor to Info 96, which garnered mixed reviews in Atlanta, where some complained the information available was either outdated or incorrect. This year, Info 98 data is available in English, French, or Japanese via 1,300 kiosks throughout the Olympic Village and competition venues. The system uses IBM's S/390 Enterprise Server and its RS/6000 server running Lotus Domino.

The Commentator Information System offers journalists biographies of the athletes, schedules of events, and results. The PC-based system uses IBM's OS/2 operating system, with a notebook interface.

Additionally, IBM is running the official Nagano Winter Olympics Web Site, powered by the RS/6000SP, which also served as the "Deep Blue" chess-playing supercomputer and worked on the Mars Pathfinder mission. IBM has set up multiple servers worldwide to alleviate traffic congestion.

To date, the site has received around 600 million hits, or 98,000 hits per minute. By day six of the Nagano Olympics, the site already had received more traffic than the Olympic site for the 1996 Atlanta games.

According to Patrick Keane, an analyst from Jupiter Communications, "no news is good news" when it comes to IBM's technology standing up to world scrutiny at this year's Olympics.

"With their event-based strategy, if they can build to scale is really the crucial issue, especially if they're trying to build an incremental business," Keane said.