2010 System Failure
Technicians will keep computers running
Thousands of hours spent preparing for worst-case scenarios
By Jeff Lee, Vancouver Sun, May 12, 2009
For nearly seven years, Magnus Alvarsson has been working out every worst-case information disaster he can imagine for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
What happens when you pull out this plug here? What about when that computer over there fails just as an athlete is about to make a medal-potential performance? What happens when you stuff so much information into your system that it chokes like a horse bolting oats?
For more than 100,000 hours, Alvarsson and his multinational crew of computer technicians at Atos Origin have played the Olympic version of War Game, playing out every scenario they can imagine might happen during the 2010 Games.
With more than 800 servers and 6,000 personal computers scattered in nearly two dozen locations from Surrey to Whistler, there's a lot of potential for technical trouble.
Atos, a French systems company, is putting all of its knowledge into practice this week and next at the Vancouver Organizing Committee's headquarters, where it is performing an aggressive test of the Games-time computer system.
"We have 17 days [of the Games] where there is no room for failure. There is no second chance," said Alvarsson, Atos' chief integrator for 2010.
"The one thing that can not happen and has never happened and should never happen is that we are not able to deliver on time to the rest of the world the information."
That experience is playing out well for Atos, which has worked with the International Olympic Committee since 1996.
"To be honest, we have been building this system since Salt Lake City [in 2002] and we haven't had any major issues," he said.
It isn't for lack of trying. Alvarsson's 92 employees have calculated every possible permutation of what could go wrong at the worst possible moment.
"We will simulate failure of systems, pulling out cable, things like that. All of this to simply make sure we can be prepared," Alvarsson explained.
The Atos system covers everything from accreditation, transportation, workforce, medical and sports entries, to Internet data feeds, remote information terminals and Olympic data feeds for news services. It is the information spine of the Olympic Games, without which competitions couldn't be held and news delivered.
Alvarsson said Atos began preparing for this week's test three months ago. It collected "depersonalized" information from the 2006 Turin Games and installed it on about 40 of its servers. It also created 10,000 dummy Olympic News Service stories -- more than all that were produced at the Beijing Summer Games -- to simulate the heaviest traffic possible on its terminals.
In the end, Alvarsson said all the testing will be used to make sure nothing will go wrong during the Games. And if something does, they'll know of how to fix it.