IT Disaster at the Atlanta Olympics

When the 1996 Olympic website flamed out.

Setting up an IT shop for a global event such as the Olympic Games is not without its perils. As hit rates for the Games grow from between 300 percent to 500 percent annually, it's easy to see how a sudden burst of traffic on the Olympic site could have the IBM e-Business team feeling the agony of defeat.

The website at the 1996 Atlanta Games, for example, was often slow to surf, which didn't make anybody happy. But there was a bigger problem. One of the seven main IBM systems that was to provide competition results to 12 news organizations didn't function properly (there were errors in the results software and problems with the data transmissions), and news organizations had to get their results the old-fashioned way—from runners delivering pieces of paper. The news organizations that had paid good money for up-to-date, up-to-the-second results from the events were even unhappier than the frustrated surfers.

Perhaps not coincidentally, IBM's involvement with the Olympics is ending after Sydney, Australia. Financial and sponsorship disagreements between IBM and the International Olympic Committee ended their 40-year partnership. For the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, the IOC has contracted with a new group of technology providers led by French-English IT company Sema.

But in its last hurrah Down Under, IBM will pack plenty of its RS/6000 servers to handle IT at the Y2K Summer Games. After all, at the 1998 Nagano, Japan, Games, the Olympic website totaled 634 million hits over two weeks. By using server farms all over the world, necessitating as few hops as possible across the internet, the team hopes to mitigate the effect of an entire world logging on pretty much at once.

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