London 2012 Olympics: 17000 athletes, 11000 computers
Acer: 'It won't run on Vista like we said it would'
Updated Even if you don't care about people running quickly around in circles, it can't have escaped your notice that the Olympics is coming to London for 17 days in July 2012. As the world's biggest sports event of the year, it will involve 17,000 athletes, 20,000 members of the press, millions of spectators (10 million tickets sold - more to come), billions of people watching on television. And a lot of computers.
The London Olympic site under construction.
The computing equipment contract has gone to Acer - the Taiwan-based PC makers who have dealt in enterprise solutions since the early 2000s. They took us out to the Olympic Village, gave us a bus tour of the site and then showed us the computer nerve system that processes all the data behind it. As you may or may not be surprised to hear, most of the computers run on Vista. But it's not about swanky, it's about getting it done.
"It's a true project, with an end date that cannot move," said Acer's Programme Manager Todd Olsen, "There is no flexibility; it has to work on the 27th of July."
Acer's contract is to provide the hardware and service to the Games. With nine months to go, 95 per cent of the hardware needed for the Games has already been provided, and the deployment of service staff is slowly powering up, with about 25 per cent of the people needed in place.
In total Acer have furnished the Olympics with 10,000 desktops, 1,000 laptops and 900 servers.
The scanners for security gates will be made by Acer, as will the touch screens used to get information in the media centre and elsewhere.
Between 3,000 and 4,000 of the computers will be left in the Technology Operations Centre in a wired room in Canary Wharf, with the key Olympic village venues taking about 1,500 to 2,000 each.
The Acer desktops – Veriton L670Gs – will be running Windows Vista, XP or Linux with either quad-core or dual-core Intel processors. Monitors are a compact 15 inches across.
One of the 10,000 Acer desktops being used to run the Olympics.
The Notebooks are hefty TravelMate 6593Gs running on Windows 7, also with Intel dual core chips: Centrinos.
One of the 1,000 Travelmate laptops
Yes, that means that the vast majority of them are running Windows Vista. But it's not about the fancy specs. Consistency was a big buzz word for Acer: making sure that all the computers are the same, that they all work with the same drivers and that there are enough in reserve should more be required. "We are as fluid and risk-averse as possible, the same consistent tech is a key factor in our success," said Michael Trainor, Acer Product Manager.
Acer will be employing 300 to 400 staff as technical support during the 17 days of the Games: these will be Service Specialists and Desktop Technicians who will work at the venues and in the Operations Centre, with people available every hour of the day in every venue for the duration of the Games. Currently about 50 have been employed.
There needs to be a technical team in each venue for security reasons – it takes a while for people to get in and out of the Olympic Village due to the security procedures, so if something goes wrong, sending someone up on the DLR would be a disaster. "The standard next-day customer service model wouldn't work," as Olsen put it.
Other tech partners
Omega are providing the timing and scoring for the 2012 Olympics, Panasonic will provide large screens, Atos are making software applications, BT and Cisco are providing the communications networks while Samsung is providing wireless devices. Visa is tucked in there too. And they're all working together nicely we understand: "LOCOG have done a good job in bringing all the tech partners together, on at least a monthly basis – at upper management level. We're integrated even more lower down," said Trainor.
The software used is a mixture of off-the-shelf programs and custom-made applications.
How it will unfold in the Olympic run-up.
In the Integration room, all the tech partners pull together to set up systems that work. The sections are split up into types of sport: archery, football, etc, as well as particular venues.
Part of a computer cell in the Integration room, ready to be packed up and sent off to the Olympic Village.
In May to June, the cells of computer set-ups will be packed up, sent out to the venue, and tested out with test events. If any problems occur, they'll be packed back up, sent back, re-tested and sent out again. The average cell of about 30 to 40 computers is intended to fit in one pallet.
"Two to three weeks in advance, these rooms will be decommissioned, packed and transported over to the venues, where they will be unpacked, reconfigured for an on venue review and tested with test events. If there's a problem, we bring them back here, fix them here, send them back. That's why our distributed PC is so useful. Workstations wouldn't travel so easily."
Banks of computers being tested in the Integration room.
The Tech Operations Centre
Now housing about 40 to 50 people, during the Games this room full of computers and screens will be the control centre of Olympic operations: open 24 hours a day with about 350 to 400 people working every shift. The 400 people will be from all the tech partners, not just Acer, with the idea that those responsible will be able to respond quickly to anything that comes up.
"It's a very operational room. We'll be moving from project-based thought processes to operational work. You'll be able to get up, go to someone and say, 'get it done'," Olsen explained.
When we visited, 70 people were in there, doing a trial run using an archery event running at Lords. When we asked what they were all doing, we were told "Monitoring. They're monitoring everything."
The Technical Operations Centre: The control centre of the 2012 Olympics.
The Olympic Village – from inside a bus.
Beyond the technology and onto the bigger picture. Here are a few snaps of the Olympic Village, snatched through the window of a bus we were strictly forbidden from exiting. We apologise for the glassy stuff in the way.
Fun facts from the Olympic Village tour.
- Newts and toads have been reintroduced into the local waterways.
- The portion of the River Lea that runs through the park will be closed off during the Games.
- Anyone even trying to bring a car to the Olympic Village during Games time will *not* be able to park it. "It will not be a very nice experience for the people who try to do that," our tour guide promised.
- Everyone will encouraged to attend the games on public transport. Apparently 10 train lines will end in the Olympic Village... We'll just say good luck with that.
- The building work has been paid for by the UK taxpayer – to the tune of £9.3bn.
- The operational running costs are paid for by the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) – an umbrella group that pulls in money from the private sector – £2.2bn – and recoups costs against ticket sales.
Show must go on
"The government built the theatre, now we have to put on the show," said the LOCOG representative.
The basketball courts on the right, athlete's accommodation on the left.
The tower, by Anish Kapoor, and the main stadium.
Anish Kapoor's Tower.
The Velodrome from a distance.
Zaha Hadid's Olympic swimming pool, claimed to be spectacular inside.
The 50m Hadid swimming pool from the side... "One of the most complicated engineering feats ever undertaken." At least according to our tour guide...
The Hadid pool from the side.
The viewing observatory at the top of Kapoor's tower.
Updated to Add
Acer, asked just what kit they would be supplying for the Olympics, originally supplied us with a spec sheet (pdf)  stating that the desktop machines would be running Vista, XP, or Linpus Linux (so, mostly Vista). Since we published this article they have been in touch to say that this was a mistake on their part.
Acer would like to assure the world that the London Olympics will not be running on Vista but mostly on Windows 7.