For IBM & Telstra, An Olympian Challenge

September 8, 2000


Paris, FRANCE — Brad Spurgeon reported for the International Herald Tribune that International Business Machines Corp. is the official technology provider to the Olympic Games that start in Sydney this month, but without the glue provided by Telstra Corp., the Australian telecommunications company, the computers could only talk to themselves.

Besides showcasing the network and communications prowess of IBM and Telstra, the Olympic Games also will feature dozens of other technological wonders, from iris-scan security systems to split-second timing mechanisms.

But IBM will be getting the bulk of the tech attention, particularly after its disaster of four years ago, when the Games’ first official Web site and the official scoring system failed to work properly.

In its last year at the Olympics – the company is ending its sponsorship after 40 years, partly over a dispute over Internet rights – IBM promises to be different.

“One of the things that IBM learned was to be responsible from end to end,” said Craig Lowder, IBM’s communications director. “That’s not the way it was in Atlanta.”

Too many companies were involved in the computer infrastructure in Atlanta, making testing and coordination too difficult, Mr. Lowder said. For Sydney, IBM has tested for months.

IBM’s infrastructure, which is responsible for the public Internet sites, an intranet for officials, athletes and the press, and the sports results system, is vast: 6,000 desktop computers, 1,000 laptops, 50 workstations, three supercomputers, four mainframes, 845 network switches and 10 million lines of code.

The computing system is expected to handle more than 4 terabytes of information, or 4 trillion bits of data, which is more information than in all the books catalogued by the U.S. Library of Congress.

On the main Web site, IBM said that it expected 6 billion hits, or more than 1 billion page views, which is 10 times more than its Nagano Winter Olympics site had.

Telstra is providing the data and voice communications backbone and sending it to the rest of the world.

Superimposed on Telstra’s national network, the fiber-optic network involved in the Games consists of 1.5 million kilometers (930,000 miles) of cable that would circle the earth 37 times if laid end to end. It has dubbed the Olympics portion the “Millennium Network.”

The entire network will be connected to the outside world by submarine cables that go from the east and west coasts of Australia primarily to Indonesia and Japan. From there they link to cables over the northern Pacific to the United States and to cables heading toward Europe.

The voice and data traffic will also be beamed up to about a dozen satellites, owned by consortiums such as Intelsat, over the Pacific and Indian oceans.

John Hunter, general manager of the Sydney Olympics project for Telstra, said that most of the company’s enhancements were made on the ground – satellite dishes and multiplexing equipment that squeezes more capacity out of fiber optics, for example.

“The beauty about doing it is that you can always reuse it after the Games,” he said. “The whole strategy of our Millennium Network was to design a network that can be used by our customers post-Games because we’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars on this network.”

Telstra also installed 30,000 telephone lines and a cell phone network that can handle up to 300,000 users from the main stadium, a capacity calculated after studying cell-phone use at the Nagano Games.

“Mobiles are always a problem at these major events,” Mr. Hunter said, “so we’ve put a lot of effort into Sydney Olympic Park, and I believe it’s now the highest density network in the world.”

“We’ve got transmitters on light poles, phone boxes, sides of walls, wherever we can put them,” he said.

Other bit technology players have their parts in the Games, too:

The official merchandise at the Games is being branded with a DNA ink identification system, because it is next to impossible to counterfeit. A segment of a chain of DNA is taken from a person in some cases and is synthetic in others, according to Deborah Smith, vice president of DNA Technologies of Los Angeles, the company that is providing the service. Optical scanners can identify the chain, thereby weeding out counterfeit goods.

Admission to the German House, a welcome center, will be controlled with iris-recognition technology. About 1,100 members of the media, athletes, officials and guests will have a digital image of their iris taken, using EyeTicket Corp.’s technology. Each person’s iris is unique, and may be identified by a glance into a video camera.

For the first time, competition results will be available on CD-ROM, published by Xerox Corp. After the Games, the CDs will be distributed to 1,000 journalists and sports organizations.

Swatch Group AG, the Swiss watchmaker, will have 250 specialists to take care of 100 tons of timing equipment, from computers and cameras to cables, starting blocks, electronic shooting targets, fencing devices and display boards.

For the first time, digital cameras will be used for photo finishes and will beam color images not only to the judges, but also to the television networks and wire services.

One hundred contact strips – touch pads like those used in swimming – will record when the athlete touches it to within one-hundredth of a second.

The FBI’s computer crime division and computer crime experts from the Australian police will use high-tech measures – they are not saying what they are – to watch over the IBM and Telstra systems. They will be on the lookout for hackers.


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