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A Herculean effort

Twenty-one months ago, the chief information officer for the XX1 Olympic Games and X Paralympic Winter Games discussed the many challenges that lay ahead for him and his staff. Speaking at the 2007 BICSI Canada Conference in Vancouver, Ward...


November 1, 2009  


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Twenty-one months ago, the chief information officer for the XX1 Olympic Games and X Paralympic Winter Games discussed the many challenges that lay ahead for him and his staff.

Speaking at the 2007 BICSI Canada Conference in Vancouver, Ward Chapin, an executive who has held a number of roles in information systems auditing, systems development and IT operations, admitted that when he was hired by the Vancouver Organizing Committee better known as VANOC, he felt like the “dog who had chased the car and caught it. What do I do now?”

He then outlined the guiding principles he planned to follow, which included a clear focus on team building, an emphasis on planning, project management and execution and finally, the use of proven technology.

“We have to hit this out of the park,” he said. “In order to do that we are avoiding bleeding-edge technology for we need to make sure our systems are rock solid.”

Chapin and his team appear to have done just that. Bell Canada, which paid $200 million to VANOC for the right to be both Premier National Partner and the principle communications service provider, has taken on a mammoth undertaking.

I noted in this space three years ago that is an immense job that involves everything from staffing a technology operations centre where hundreds of people will need to monitor the primary telecommunications network to figuring out how best to connect two distinct communities.

Carmi Levy, senior vice president of strategic consulting with AR Communications Inc. notes in this issue’s cover story, that the Vancouver-Whistler area is not a compact region with relatively flat topography that would support a relatively straightforward cabling deployment. It is, he adds, about as challenging as it gets; however, the “fact it’s so geographically challenging cannot be used as an excuse.”

The cabling requirements are massive. The initial design included 160 kilometres of fiber optic cable, 960 kilometres of copper, 2,700 fiber cross connects and 15,000 voice and data connections.

Vancouver 2010 will also be known as the site of the first IP converged network in Olympic Games history.

According to Bell, the flexible and scalable network means less cabling, fewer switches, and reduced support, all of which lower overall costs. It is also centrally managed, the company says, which means highly skilled managers can “oversee the operation of the entire network rather than entry level people being in charge at each venue. The results include increased efficiencies, reduced human error and maximum uptime – the same results that enterprises with branch offices can expect to achieve with centrally managed services.”

It appears to have all gone so smoothly it would be astounding if any glitches permeate a network that will support the wireless communications needs of an estimated two million visitors, 30,000 staff and volunteers and 10,000 accredited media. Nobody at VANOC wants another Atlanta on their hands when a number of computer systems at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games either crashed or went haywire.

VANOC, says Chapin, made a commitment to the International Olympic Committee that it would develop, test and deploy a reliable, secure and highly available network infrastructure: “The technology Bell delivered not only meets IOC and broadcaster requirements, but exceeds their needs with 99.999% reliability.”

To be sure, there is plenty of boasting currently going on and why not? Bell, its suppliers, cabling contractors, network engineers and everyone else involved appear to have done an outstanding job.

The real test begins Feb. 12 with the lighting of the Olympic torch. Paul Barker