Going for Gold: the Olympics and Data

The Winter Olympics: the slice of blades against the ice, the cool gliding of the curling stone towards the button, the “hum” of data as it travels through the cables. Just as integral as any other component of the Games (and what brings it live to the world,) the tech infrastructure for the Vancouver Games is an intriguing part of the festivities that you probably haven’t thought about before.

From CNET:

“In here, our objective is to be bored,” said Atos Origin’s Magnus Alvarsson, one of those in charge of overseeing the Olympics’ IT setup. And from where he sits, just outside the computer-filled room that is the equivalent of NASA’s mission control, things have been just about as uneventful as he could hope for.

Among the biggest problems have been minor things such as people forgetting their password or moving computers from one location to another at a venue. “It shows up on our monitoring that someone is unplugging something,” Alvarsson said.

But it’s more than just set-up-and-go. Engineers had to be quick on their feet during the Games, including after the tragic death of the Georgian luger. Network cables needed to be rerouted since the starting position on the track changed, something that most of us probably didn’t think about.

The man behind the operations is Andy Platten, vice president of technical infrastructure for the Vancouver Organizing Committee of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC).

From the Vancouver 2010 Web site:

“What we’re doing here for the Games is like opening all the branches of a bank on the same day, with all the systems working,” said Platten. “And just like in banking, everything has to run perfectly; customer transactions can’t go wrong.”

Platten said the communications network of Vancouver 2010 is substantial enough to meet the needs of a small town: the Games will require some 700 kilometres of cable to reach 15 geographically dispersed venues across a 120-kilometre area.

Suddenly, watching Apolo Ohno skate to the podium doesn’t seem like such a difficult task. All kidding aside, how often do most of us step back and think about the massive technical network it takes to make large events, such as the Olympic Games, come to life? How different did this infrastructure look five, 10 or even 50 years ago?

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