IBM's dearest wish is for its swansong Olympic Games here in Sydney to go smoothly. Big Blue's previous Summer Olympics in Atlanta in 96 turned sour when, after it had spent close to $US100 million, the frequent failures of the system that should have distributed event results to the press created a public relations nightmare for the company.
Small wonder then that IBM decided to terminate its association with the Games.
But if the Atlanta Games came to be known as the problem games - and not just for IBM - the Sydney Games appear at the halfway mark to be smooth sailing. As far as the public is concerned, almost everything about these Games is going as planned - the organisers can hardly be blamed for fluky winds on the sailing courses or traffic jams in suburban streets - and the technology has barely been seen to put a foot wrong.
Despite stories from insiders of IBM staffers working 18 hours or more a day and having to reboot multiple stalled systems with frustrating frequency, it's the public perception that will ultimately count. And the public perception thus far is fine. The results seem to be turning up when and where required, and that is no mean feat.
The results system installed and maintained by IBM at the Sydney Games involves multiple Netfinity servers, ThinkPads, and workstations on LANs all linked via WANs to a data warehouse driven by a System/390 mainframe that handles all the results and statistics for 28 different sports. The results are coming in from as far afield as Melbourne, 1000 kilometres southwest of Sydney, and Brisbane, a similar distance to the north.
At each sporting venue Netfinity 5500 servers support the three main functions of event management, event control and results processing.
For the results function, the times, scores, distances and other necessary information - depending on whether it is a team sport, a timed race, a judged event or a head-to-head contest - are gathered and fed into the venue's results database for immediate delivery to the central results system. Printed results are also produced for distribution to officials, athletes, coaches and on-site media.
The central results system - the other half of the equation - is based on a data warehouse application managed by DB2 on a System/390 Parallel Sysplex server and stored in RAMAC Virtual Array storage devices. It delivers statistical information and results to 15,000 media representatives via more than 700 printers, and also transmits competition results to the data feed of the World News Press Agencies, to the INFO service for viewing by those involved in the Olympics, and to IBM's official Games website.
In all, some 9000 ThinkPads and workstations interact via LANs to access the data from the venue systems and from the central database.
Keeping such a complex system up and running successfully is a major achievement, even with staff working 18-hour days, and may mean that IBM's technology supply involvement with the Olympics ends on a happier note.