The IT Infrastructure of the Olympics

By Debby Telfer, DCS

IT at the OlympicsAs the 2012 London Olympics unfold, it is staggering to consider the role information technology plays in the wide-reaching, seventeen-day event; particularly when you consider how the events have changed over history. We interviewed Debby Telfer, Doctor of Computer Science and Program Director for Computer Science and Information Technology at CTU, to discuss the intricacies of IT in the Olympics.

Real-Time Information
Dr. Telfer was closely involved with IT at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and pursued it as the topic of her doctoral dissertation. At the time, Dr. Telfer was working at IBM, which partnered with NeoProducts to supply the Sydney 2000 Olympics with information kiosks. Dr. Telfer was tasked with determining how information could be communicated to the kiosks quickly and efficiently.

Event kiosks were placed in high-traffic areas to supply attendees with near real-time information about Olympic results and updates on live events in progress. Since the kiosks only had remote access to information through a phone line connection, Dr. Telfer worked to find the best way to serve up event information including game results and archives, athlete biographies, news and weather reports, cultural events, and transportation schedules.

Dr. Telfer’s research supported an algorithm that monitored when updates occurred on the servers so they would automatically distribute to remote locations. This algorithm was able to quickly display information accurately, such as final scoring and ticket/seat availability. “We reduced the load on the kiosks by having the servers perform all of the processing, including the web page that the customers saw on the kiosk.” Dr. Telfer said.

Evolution of IT at the Olympics
IT needs at the Olympics have skyrocketed over the past 16 years and Dr. Telfer’s involvement in the 2000 Olympics played a significant role in the development of IT for future Olympic games. As reported to the Lubbock Avalanche Journal, the 2012 London Olympics will use around 11,500 computers; compared to just 200 used at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Fully Internet-based infrastructures were first used in the 1998 Olympics and wireless wasn’t widely used until five years after Dr. Telfer’s research was complete. However, her dedication to improving IT support for the Olympics advanced the search for the best way to provide efficient, reliable, accurate information. This eventually led to the primary reliance on a wireless IT infrastructure as the best option for the Olympics.

“On a world stage, opportunities to test and expand the boundaries for what is possible in the IT world are created not only with athletes competing, but for the technology that supports every facet of the games. Some major developments being tested at the 2012 Olympics include new mobile applications, wireless connectivity, high-bandwidth apps such as streaming video, IT security and infrastructure with less impact to surrounding businesses, and the Olympic Walkway lit by people power,” says Dr. Telfer.

What new technology have you noticed in the 2012 Olympic games? What IT enhancements do you expect to see in future events? Share your comments below, or discuss with Dr. Telfer on Twitter @CTUTech.

Debby Telfer, DCS, spent 19 years at IBM in several IT-related roles, including programmer and software developer/engineer. She also served nearly five years as a mathematician, programmer and engineer at the U.S. Army Armament Research and Development Command (NJ). Currently, Dr. Telfer is CTU’s Program Director for Computer Science and Information Technology.

Image credit: TIME Photos