In a week or so, millions of us from around the world will be glued to our Internet accounts watching http://www.atlanta.olympic.org. Hits at the Olympics Web site have already ramped past 250,000 per day. Will all this multimedia hyperlinking to the Olympics in Atlanta, especially from outside the United States, drive the Internet into catastrophic collapse?
I've been talking with John Patrick, vice president for Internet technology at IBM. The company is the official information technology sponsor of the Olympics and is scaling up for millions of Web hits per hour - a mere drop in the Internet's bucket. Patrick (http://www.ibm.com/patrick) is almost totally sure there will be no Internet collapses around the Olympics.
In Atlanta, IBM has assembled a huge intranet, comprised of its business machines in 10 or so different applications. One of several on-site System/390 mainframes running DB2, a bevy of AS/400 minicomputers, and thousands of IBM PCs will be involved in event-results gathering and reporting. How will Internet users jack into all this trackside information processing? Through IBM's "Womplex".
IBM's Global Network (IGN) provides 40 T1 (1.5Mbit/sec) feeds between IBM's Atlanta intranet and the Womplex. Note that IGN, called Advantis in the US, is perhaps the largest Internet service provider, with, according to IBM, 5,000 employees connecting 20,000 enterprises with 2 million users in 850 cities worldwide.
So, what's a Womplex? IBM has developed a ton of Internet software based on its Web Object Manager, or WOM. This software is aimed at supporting large-scale Web applications - what I would call extranets - through networks of servers and distributed Web objects. These servers and objects are IBM's Womplex, all now scaling up for Internet coverage of the Olympics.
To achieve "geographical scalability", the Womplex spreads hit-processing and moves it closer to where it's needed. For example, the Womplex uses "PING triangulation" to redirect Web links. The Womplex asks each of its mirror servers to PING (measure the round trip to) your Internet address and then triangulates (chooses the minimum) to determine which is closest. This happens asynchronously while you are being served your first few pages from the primary servers. Thereafter, your Web pages are downloaded by the closest server, spreading the load among servers and minimising the bandwidth your links consume on the Internet.
"Closest" here does not mean shortest distance along a great circular route, but something akin to minimum delay, which is a function of Internet topology, capacity of intervening circuits, and traffic during triangulation.
IBM may eventually offer its Womplex facilities to paying customers. I guess it's doing the Olympics to demonstrate how good the Womplex is. Now if only the Internet holds up under the strain.