The first official Olympic Web site was launched by IBM on 11 April 1995, to fulfil the desire of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) to make the Olympic experience available to the world. "It is a new breed of Web server with a very advanced setup which is different from anything which exists today," says Jose-Luis Iribarren, IBM's manager of Olympic and sports Internet systems. "It is dynamic, parallel and scalable and the server is updated every second."
The site, which will terminate at the end of this year, runs on an RS6000 SP2 with 52 nodes in New York and mirrored sites in Japan and Europe.
Connected to the Internet backbone via two T3 lines, it has a technical support team of 40 and another 40 staff in Atlanta providing editorial content.
The site uses IBM's Web Objects Management server software, Womplex, which will be available commercially late this year. It is object-oriented and has no HTML pages, these being created for users on the fly. "Objects will be the technology of the future and will change the way Web sites operate," says Iribarren.
The day before I meet Iribarren, 23 July, the site has logged 14.8 million hits, compared with Netscape's 30 to 40 million. "We are graphic- and video-intensive, so each hit is four to five times bigger than Netscape.
This affects the horsepower of the server," he says. "We have a single site with requests evenly distributed between nodes. Netscape has a cluster of servers dedicated to different tasks, not a single site. We are very satisfied with our site's performance under stress."
By the end of the Games the site had logged a total of 181.1 million hits, peaking at 16.955 million on Thursday 1 August. "Our experience of other sports Web sites is that traffic peaks on Thursdays between 12pm and 2pm Eastern Standard time. This is lunchtime on the East Coast of the US, where they have fast lines in their offices."
The site is connected to a video server which uses Bamba, IBM's new streamlined video and audio technology for the Internet. "The file starts playing at the time downloading begins," says Iribarren. "Our new compression algorithm is four times more efficient and compact than AVI or MPEG but the quality is remarkable compared with what we have seen on the Internet so far. Video can now be played on 28,800 baud modems at home, which is a real breakthrough."
The ticket server uses IBM's Net.Commerce secure server and is separate from the main server because it has to be configured differently for security to track the user's entire session. More than 130,000 tickets, worth #5.3 million, were sold during the Games, making it the world's largest electronic commerce site.
Individual frames from TV signals are extracted continuously for the Sights and Sounds section of the server. "Visitors can view frames from current events, to give people a feeling that they are really here." Iribarren moves to another page and back again, to demonstrate that the image objects have changed. He turns on a live television feed to show a medal ceremony taking place; images of it are already on the page.
Visitor traffic information is stored on a datamining mainframe. "After the Games, we want to carry out a statistical analysis of the paths visitors follow," says Iribarren. "We have to deal with massive amounts of information and the back end of the site uses Lotus Notes extensively. In future, Notes will be fully integrated. Maybe Sydney will have 10 times as much information with half the people."
In Atlanta, everything was planned and executed before the Internet was introduced. "Nobody thought about it when the project started, yet it was the first application live," says Iribarren. "The Internet isn't a sideshow any longer and at future Games it will be a core part of the whole technology from the beginning. Nevertheless, in Atlanta we are making history, both for the Olympics and the Internet."
Launched 11 April 1995
Termination date End of 1996
Set up by Jose-Luis Iribarren, manager of Olympic and sports Internet systems, IBM
Competition None Size 40Gb
Hits per day Average 12 to 13 million, maximum 16.955 million.
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