ATHENS, GREECE -- A steady stream of taxis grinds up the hill to the headquarters of the Athens Olympic Committee headquarters, on the northern edge of the city. In the lobby it's all bustle as visitors mill around the accreditation desk and pass through security controls. But on the second floor the glass-walled technology operations center sits idle -- most of the 135 seats in the control room are empty, and all but one of the screens on the video wall are dark.
Soon this room will be buzzing with activity as staff members monitor and maintain the health of the servers, data networks, and power supplies delivering key applications for the 2004 Olympic Games. But for now, it's eerily quiet.
There's plenty of work going on behind the scenes, though, with integration still to be completed at some of the smaller venues. And then there's testing, lots and lots of testing.
Claude Philipps, program director of major events at Atos Origin, the lead IT contractor for the Olympic Games, likes to be prepared. "We are ready, but we are still testing, because we want to be sure that every stupid thing that can happen is planned for," Philipps says. "In a normal IT project, we could have delivered the application to the customer almost eight months ago."
But the Olympic Games is far from a normal IT project. The deadline is nonnegotiable, and there are no second chances: Everything must work, from the opening ceremony on Aug. 13 right to the end, says Philipps, whose previous experience includes developing the control system for the world's first computerized nuclear power plant.
With all that pressure, Philipps' team is doing its utmost to ensure that the network will not fail. They are building multiple layers of security and redundancy, using reliable technology, and then testing it rigorously.
Creating a Team
In the buildup to the games, the team goes through two technical rehearsals in which 30 Atos Origin staffers put the network through its paces. The team spends a full week simulating the busiest days of the games, Philipps says, dealing with "crazy scenarios of what might happen in every area: a network problem, staff stopped in a traffic jam, a security attack … everything that might happen."
The rehearsal tests people and procedures as much as products. That's important because the IT operating organization Philipps is building will have grown from nothing to a staff of 3,400 in less than three years. Many staff members are volunteers who train evenings and weekends to deliver first-line support.
Philipps is getting used to this boom-and-bust cycle of team building, having worked on the event since the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. Some of his colleagues can trace their involvement further back, because Atos Origin now owns Sema, which has been developing software for the Olympics since the 1992 competition in Barcelona, Spain.
The two major components of the software that will run over the Olympic network are Atos Origin's GMS (Games Management System), a customized suite of applications that act as kind of ERP for the Olympics, and the IDS (Information Diffusion System).
GMS will be running on Windows 2000 servers in Athens, an upgrade from the Windows NT 4 used at the Salt Lake City games in 2002. "We're not using sexy technology," Philipps says. "The main goal for us is to reduce the amount of risk."