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VANOC CIO discusses 2010

From an IT and infrastructure perspective, 'we're ahead of schedule'


March 1, 2007  


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VANCOUVER — Ward Chapin admits that when he first accepted the role of chief information officer with the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC) two years ago, he felt somewhat “like the dog who had chased the car and caught it. What do I do now?”

It is understandable for not only is he overseeing an immense and mind-boggling IT and infrastructure initiative, the fact that the eyes of the world will be focused on Vancouver and Whistler in three years time means there is simply no room for error. Having systems crash or malfunction, which is what happened at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, is a scenario that VANOC desperately wants to avoid.

Chapin, a former executive with the HSBC Bank who has held various IT-related roles in information systems auditing, systems development and IT operations, is confident that will not happen.

According to VANOC, his responsibility is as diverse as the technology and the systems he oversees, spanning day-to-day office requirements for 1,200 staff to systems that manage the accreditation, communication, security and transportation functions for all Games’ participants.

Speaking at the BICSI Canada Conference held here in early March, Chapin outlined the guiding principles he and his staff will follow as they prepare for the Games.

There is, he said, 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.”

Deciding which vendors to use is a moot point since The International Olympic Committee (IOC) dictates who the majority of them will be via its Top Sponsor initiative program that involves organizations signing multi-year contracts. In 2010 the list will include IT services firm Atos Origin, Samsung, Lenovo, Omega, Panasonic and General Electric.

The involvement of each is enormous. Lenovo, for example, announced in late March that it recently completed the second of three massive hardware deliveries for the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

By the time the Games begin, the total will be more than 14,000 pieces of computing equipment to support 56 venues in seven cities. In addition, the number of on-site Lenovo technicians and support personnel will surpass the 400 mark.

In Vancouver, two other key vendors are Bell Canada, which paid $200 million to VANOC for the right to be both Premier National Partner and the principal communications service provider, and Richo Canada Inc., which will provide all the document management equipment. In Turin, upwards of 30 million pages were printed in the media centre.

“The real benefit that these sponsors bring is their years of experience,” said Chapin. “I often compare it to a marriage, but even stricter because divorce is not an option here.”

On the VANOC site, he wrote last year that the technology team will be responsible for a broad variety of technical challenges, including:

* Setting up the technical logistics for each event, such as systems to ensure that the athletes, media and work staff have the proper access privileges at the venue and additional systems provide accurate qualification data on each athlete participating in the event.

* Supplying the TV commentators with the systems and information they require to call the event.

* Ensuring the accurate timing and scoring of the event (down to one-hundredths of a second).

* Ensuring the instant-aneous communication of event results.

* Putting in place the technology to broadcast events to the world.

* Putting in all of the above concurrently at several different venues.

The equipment roster will consist of 5,200 PCs and laptops, 560 servers, 1,000 printers, 635 network switches, 25,000 network ports, 7,000 two-way raidio, 6,000 TV monitors, 15,000 voice/fax lines, 7,000 mobile phones and 500 Wi-Fi access points.

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

A critical piece is the so-called Sea to Sky corridor between Vancouver and Whistler. Bell says the 120-kilometres of cable will be the “backbone for all communications needs, including live broadcast feeds to more than a billion viewers around the world, Internet sharing of news stories and photos, Voice-over Internet Protocol requirements and more.”

Chapin, meanwhile, pointed out recently that while the main priority is to guarantee that everything works, the challenge is to anticipate what will not. He noted that a “number of test events are planned to give his team experience with unsuspected surprises.”