IBM has something to prove at Olympics

IBM New Zealand has devoted a $200,000 RS/6000 Webserver to a New Zealand Olympic Games Website and will send its own reporter and photographe to Atlanta.

IBM New Zealand has devoted a $200,000 RS/6000 Webserver to a New Zealand Olympic Games Website and will send its own reporter and photographer, armed with ThinkPad laptops and a digital camera, to Atlanta. But even the man in charge, Terry Bowden, admits the local effort will be dwarfed by IBM's huge technological showcase on site.

IBM's history at the Olympics stretches back to 1960, but the showcase it is mounting as worldwide information technology sponsor for the games is unprecedented. The company will be deploying everything from System 390 mainframes to touch-screen terminals and pen-based notebooks in a massive proof of its "network-centric" philosophy.

Many of the systems are already in place. Indeed, the deadline for ordering games tickets over the Internet and having them delivered has just passed. The ticket sales, the biggest live test of IBM's--or anyone else's--online commerce offerings, are still open, but you'll have to pick them up at the gate in Atlanta.

This is the first Olympics of the Internet era, and IBM's razzle-dazzle Website is set to eclipse all the access records set during the America's Cup regatta. IBM, having relayed both the Indy 500 and the Kasparov versus Computer chess match to the Net, is under no illusions about the likely demand.

"It's easy to underestimate what's going to happen," says Bowden.

"When IBM set up a system to relay to the Internet the chess challenge between Garry Kasparov and one of our RS/6000s, we used an RS/6000 Webserver, with the same power as the machine that was playing against Kasparov. On day one the demand from the Internet was so heavy we triplicated it. On day two we were deluged again and by the end of the first weekend there were seven systems meeting the demand from the Internet.

"Essentially, everything available on the kiosks and screens at the games will be available on the Internet, for the press and the public. That won't just be results--there will be 2000 pictures a day added to the network. You could look at the last Indy 500 as a dry-run for this system. The computers we used to to track the cars and do the lap-counting--it's not done by humans any more--fed the results directly on to the Internet, so they were appearing in real-time with the race."

IBM, with some justification, is styling its games IT exercise as the ultimate mission-critical application, declaring it to be "like running the world's largest chain of hotels and restaurants, as well as transportation, security and medical systems, while putting on two Super Bowls every day for 17 days".

Virtually every product and service IBM has to offer, from its own global network to application development and CAD visualisation technology, will be on display next month in Atlanta. If the whole huge system performs as advertised, it will be priceless real-world proof of IBM's prowess. If not? Let's just say the heat in Atlanta will not only be on the athletes.

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