Testing the game plan

As well as a showcase for the world’s sporting prowess, the Olympic Games are a logistical undertaking like
no other.

Organisers of the 2012 Olympics in London anticipate crowds of up to 500,000 people for each of the 17 days of competition, with billions more watching at home. More than 10,500 athletes will take part, and over 21,000 journalists will attend.

None of this would be possible, of course, without the IT systems behind the scenes, and making sure these systems are up to scratch is vital if London is to meet its responsibilities as host.

To ensure that everything runs as smoothly as possible come the event, the London 2012 Organising Committee and its IT partner, Atos Origin, are putting the Games’ IT infrastructure to the test.

From now until kick-off in July next year, more than 3,500 technicians will be putting 900 servers, 1,000 network and security devices, and 9,500 computers through their paces at Technology Lab, London 2012’s IT nerve centre. Before the opening ceremony, all of the IT infrastructure will have undergone 200,000 hours of testing.

The idea is to simulate every possible event that might take place during the Games, and make sure that the IT systems are able to cope.

Gerry Pennell, CIO of the London 2012 Olympics, says the lab’s purpose is to “test in both scenarios – when things go well, but also when things go wrong”. Scenarios range from the predictable, such as a point being scored during a tennis game, to the catastrophic, such as a large-scale cyber attack.

All of the equipment that will be installed at sporting venues across London is up and running within the Technology Lab, a 20,000 sq ft lab in Canary Wharf. This includes networking equipment from Cisco, PCs and servers from Acer and wireless communications infrastructure from Samsung. “We’re actually testing the same components that will be used,” explains Pennell.

The Technology Lab is also testing the applications that have been specially developed for the Games. One example is myInfo+, a portal for athletes, sports officials and journalists to access information including competition schedules, transport news and sports records.

Information security is one of the organisers’ primary concerns. Atos Origin, which as worldwide IT partner of the International Olympic Committee also acted as lead integrator at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, says it experienced around 14 million security anomalies every day during that competition. According to Patrick Adiba, the provider’s executive vice president, Olympics and major events, 400 or so of these could have had an impact on systems had they not been spotted and nullified in time.

Similar attacks on the London Games are inevitable, CIO Pennell admits. “We will get cyber attacked, for sure,” he says. “So we’re working very closely with our partners and the government to make sure that we have the right defences. Clearly, you can never say never, but we think we’re doing everything we can to minimise the chances of that causing us a problem.”

Legacy infrastructure

The event’s organisers have said they intend that the Games should create “positive, lasting change for the environment and communities”.

IT has played a part in this. The use of videoconferencing has reduced the volume of air travel undertaken by the organisers, and virtuslisation has cut the number of servers required to support the Olympics from 950 in Beijing 2008 to 900 in 2012, curbing the infrastructure’s carbon footprint.

But just as the ongoing impact of the Games on East London’s local economy and environment is uncertain, quite what will happen to all this IT infrastructure once the two-week event is over is not yet known. Pennell insists that organisers are currently exploring “socially useful ways to exploit the technology”, but he argues that by the time the Games are over it may be too old for use by, for example, the government’s East London Tech City initiative.

Even so, the Games are certain to impinge on the UK government’s initiative to portray the country, and its capital in particular, as a centre of technological excellence. With the world watching, it is an opportunity to dazzle or disappoint on a global scale. For Pennell and his team, the stakes could hardly be higher.

Peter Done

Peter Done is managing director of Peninsula Business Services, the personnel and employment law consultancy he set up having already built a successful betting shop business.

Related Topics