Tech partners go for Olympic gold

This year's Winter Olympics will be the first without IBM, which during most of its 40-year relationship with the games provided the bulk of tech and support services.

3 min read
Providing technology for the Olympics is no longer a solo affair--it's a team effort.

This year's Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City will be the first without IBM, which during most of its 40-year relationship with the games provided the bulk of technology and support services. This year the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC) called on 13 sponsors to provide PCs, servers and other technical support.

Pulling off a flawless performance will be important to prove that the games can go on without Big Blue--as well as to show that the event has moved past some of the ugly technology problems that disrupted earlier Games. The 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, for example, were dubbed the "Glitch Games" because of embarrassing technology gaffes.

The technology team's mettle will be tested starting Friday, when the 17-day event opens. About 2,300 people--half of them paid employees--will support the Winter Olympics' technology operation, which is broken up into three areas: information services, telecommunications and the Internet.

The consortium's technology will support 165 sporting events at 11 competition venues, manage 3,500 athletes and Olympic officials and 18,000 volunteers.

Keeping to a $300 million technology budget and coordinating with companies as different as AT&T, Gateway, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems or Qwest Communications International, among others, has been an arduous task, said Dave Busser, SLOC's chief information officer.

"The information services side is anchored by SchlumbergerSema," he said. "They're basically pulling all of the technology components together."

SchlumbergerSema, which developed most of the client systems used for the games, is managing data centers, the command center and staging areas. The New York-based company developed the commentator, central results and games management systems, among others.

Gateway will provide computers and servers to support technology services, Busser said. Gateway was "particularly attracted to being an Olympic sponsor--given their largely consumer market--but they also wanted to demonstrate they could deploy and support a very large project," he added.

Busser said he didn't see a lot of difference between computer manufacturers. "It really comes down to support and the willingness to partner. Gateway was clever and found ways to stay within their budgets and still meet our needs."

Gateway, which paid nothing for its Olympic sponsorship, is providing 5,700 PCs and about 400 servers, the majority running Windows NT.

Sun is providing an additional 160 servers running Solaris, the company's flavor of Unix.

Xerox is responsible for much of the imaging products--1,150 printers and 1,850 copiers and fax machines. Seiko, as it has in the past, is handling the timing of the sporting events.

AT&T, Lucent and Qwest are responsible for the Olympics' vast communications network. Qwest alone has built and will maintain the network that provides voice, data and video services to game venues. About 650 miles of fiber optic cable was laid for the event. Aside from land lines, more than 10,000 cell phones will be supported at the event, Busser said.

Additionally, an extensive radio network will support 7,000 handheld radios and about 16,000 public safety radios.

Gateway is hoping to bring some attention to its retail operations through its Olympics sponsorship. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to take a property like the Olympics and translate that into something that's meaningful in our local markets," said Brad Shaw, Gateway's senior vice president of marketing and corporate communications.

Gateway has created what it calls the CyberSpot at the Olympic Village that will act as a portal to information about athletes and the Games. Powered by Windows XP PCs, another CyberSpot is also being set up for the media in downtown Salt Lake City.

Gateway will allow people to send athletes video greetings from its 277 Country stores. This week Gateway saw a huge spike in CyberSpot interest ahead of the games' opening ceremony, Shaw said.

Over 24 hours, the CyberSpot Web site logged nearly 100,000 hits and about 1,000 video e-mails were sent to Olympic athletes.