IT Firms Meet Olympic Challenge

Years of planning and practice are paying off in Athens, but not only for the Olympic athletes.

The 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens can be the test of a lifetime for IT companies tapped to provide support for the athletic competition. Among the numerous responsibilities they have include updating results and athlete information on the Athens 2004 Web site; supporting the 21,500 reporters covering the events; and linking up the 61 venues across the ancient city.

French IT services company Atos Origin is the main IT contractor in Athens. It inherited the responsibility from Sema Group, which it acquired earlier this year from Schlumberger.

The company has 400 IT workers monitoring infrastructure and systems around-the-clock from a technology operation center and has augmented its staff with 3,000 volunteers.

Caroline Crouch, an Atos Origin spokeswoman, said the company has spent three-and-a-half years designing, building and testing the systems. On the first day of competition, the company supported 20 sports and 322 events at 24 venues.

"Day one of competition is when you see how they stand up against real usage," Crouch told internetnews.com. "We were pleased. Overall the systems worked well."

Security has been paramount in Atos Origin's plan, with safeguards in place to consider access, redundancy and back-up.

For starters, IT staffers and volunteers have only enough access to systems and venues to do their jobs. Security monitoring is in place, so if anyone tampers with systems it will be detected, Crouch said. Additionally, all IT systems are equipped with standard security systems, including antivirus software to firewalls and IDS.

"During the final technical rehearsal, 302 different scenarios were tested, including IT security issues, such as uncontrolled access to the IT systems, computer viruses, worm attacks as well as power outages," Crouch said.

Atos Origin has tapped several vendors -- Kodak, Panasonic, Samsung and Xerox -- for equipment for the technical center and event venues. A consortium of Greek IT firms are also supplying Sun Unix servers, Dell PCs, and Intel-based servers, Crouch said.

The contract with Atos Origin covers subsequent Olympics in Turin in 2006 and Beijing in 2008. In those games, Atos Origin will handle consulting, systems integration, operations management, IT security and software applications development.

For 40 years, IBM provided computers for the Olympics, but the company and the International Olympic Committee clashed over contract terms and Big Blue pulled out after the Sydney games.

"Success will be highly visible and will demonstrate Atos Origin's ability to handle highly complex and demanding projects; equally, any failures will be painfully obvious," Martin Canning, an IDC analyst, wrote in a recent research report.

But it isn't just IT titans performing in Athens. nCircle, a San Francisco security startup, said its IP360 Vulnerability Management System is being used by Visa to secure credit card payments at the games.

The company's monitoring gear keeps tabs on all the devices that access Visa's network to identify any vulnerabilities before they can be exploited.

nCircle president and CEO Abe Kleinfeld said Visa set up a network in Athens to handle credit card and ATM transactions. He did not know specifically how many appliances are being used to support Visa's operations at the games, because the financial giant is "buying all the time" for worldwide deployments.

"We're very proud to be there," Kleinfeld told internetnews.com who said the high-profile can only raise the privately held firm's profile.






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