by Lafe Low

IT Behind the Scenes at the 2004 Athens Summer Games

Mar 15, 20032 mins
Data Center

Athletes preparing for the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, Greece, are deep into their training regimens. And 3,850 IT staffers are also racing against time to finish setting up approximately $375 million of computer and communications systems to run the show. “The key word is testing, testing, testing,” says Claude Philipps, chief technology integrator for New York City-based Schlumberger, the games’ main IT sponsor and systems manager. “We don’t have the luxury to push back, even for good reasons.”

To create a real-world testing environment, ATHOC (Athens 2004 Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games) and Schlumberger officials built a 1,000-square-meter Integration Lab, set up at the committee’s headquarters in Athens. The lab, which became operational last November, contains 37 cells, with one cell dedicated to each venue. Each cell is a precise replica of the systems at each of the 35 competitive venues for the athletic events. “There are also eight to 10 system cells where we do stress tests,” Philipps says.

All technology used to run the games will be tested in the Integration Lab. This includes an estimated 11,000 PCs, 2,400 intranet terminals, and communications and networking equipment to support 36,000 phones, 9,000 two-way radios and the ability to check 200,000 accreditations for athletes, officials, media and spectators. A consortium of 10 vendors is involved, and testing covers interfaces between applications, all system functions and “homologation testing” to ensure systems adhere to the different sports federations’ rules.

In all, Philipps estimates his staff will conduct more than 200,000 hours of testing. Systems for swimming and weightlifting were the first put through the testing process. (And though Philipps doesn’t say so, testing is a good idea. Technical snafus at previous Olympics, such as the 1996 Atlanta games, were public embarrassments for past sponsor IBM.) Because the IT group for Athens plans to reuse as much equipment and staff as possible from the 2002 Salt Lake City winter games, the IT budget for the Athens games is about $75 million more, even though the summer games are more than twice as big.

The effects of Schlumberger’s work in Athens will last long after the closing ceremonies. Officials like Yannis Pyrgiotis, Athens 2004 executive director, say that a big technology upgrade was a main reason for the country’s Olympic bid. Turns out they want the Hellenic telecommunications network to work faster than it did the last time Athens hosted the games.