How a DMR CIO keeps the 100m final running smoothly

EDMONTON — It’s Sunday afternoon, and George Irwin probably has just as much adrenaline running through him as the eight men about to run the 100m final only hours from now.

One could say Irwin is under just as much pressure as the athletes at the 8th IAAF World Championships in Athletics being held this week in Alberta’s capital. For the past two years, the Edmontonian has been selected from DMR Consulting to organize and implement all of the IT requirements for the event.

With more than 200 countries participating and an estimated television audience of up to four billion people, the 100m final is the moment of truth. “The 100m men’s final is the key point,” he says. “Everything has to be perfect.”

Although Irwin has been working on this project for two years, the network connecting all of the elements only became active weeks prior to Friday night’s opening ceremonies.

“The biggest problem is wiring and tying together all the components,” says Irwin, especially when it came to dealing with different service providers from various countries, including the British division of Seiko, which provides all of the timing equipment, and Telus, which provided the bandwidth.

“We had to push them for requirements as recently as only two weeks ago.” That being said, any problems up to Sunday afternoon have been outside the realm of IT, including problems with the measurement equipment, which made any race results on the Saturday unofficial.

Some of the most high-end equipment associated with the games is wireless. The computers employed are actually low-end Pentiums that will be donated to the United Way once the event is finished. In fact, the entire stadium will be locked down immediately following the games for inventory.

In all, there are more than 1,500 accredited members of the media who require information immediately and the ability to send information out of Edmonton. “I have a new hate for laptops,” says Irwin, explaining that they are very difficult to reconfigure into networks and require eight times as much support. It’s a lot easier to work with the older desktop models, he says.

The biggest challenge for Irwin is delivering perfection on budget. Anything can be done if you throw enough money at it, he says, but of the $8.5 million budget, only $1 million was cash. The rest was good will.

“It’s not rocket science,” says Irwin, to do the event for as little money as possible. The goal is that no one ever hears about the IT behind the scenes, and event like this is not one where you experiment with bleeding edge technologies.

The networking stuff, for example is “pretty vanilla,” says the CIO.

For Irwin personally, the project has meant some big personal sacrifices. He has worked 25 14-hour days in a row now, which has meant less time with his wife and two-year-old daughter. Irwin has no regrets taking on the project, but he’s not sure he’d do it again.

The 100m men’s final went off without a technical glitch at 5:30 p.m. MT, and for the CIO, no news is good news.

With files from Martin Slofstra

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