Power cuts top IT challenge at Asian Games

Dealing with network outages due to intermittent power failures heads the list of challenges for the IT staff at the 13th Asian Games, which kicked off here on Sunday.

For Acer Group chairman and chief executive officer Stan Shih, however, the US$US10 million IT sponsorship was an opportunity not to be missed.

"Asia is our main market," Shih said.

Enhancing the company's image as a top grade computer systems supplier in the region is worth the trials and tribulations of setting up and running the largest computer system Acer has ever built outside the company, Shih and other Acer officials said. Taiwan-based Acer is the parent company of the Acer Group, the main computer systems sponsor of the games.

"So far, so good," said a visibly relieved Ralph Lee, deputy chief customer service officer at Acer, as the mission-critical results systems successfully provided real-time feeds on Monday during the first full day of events.

With issues ranging from the notorious traffic jams in the capital city to frequent power failures and a telephone network bursting at the seams, many observers fully expected that Thailand's general infrastructure would pose the biggest challenge for the Bangkok Asian Games Organizing Committee (BAGOC).

At least during the first few days of the games, however, the dire predictions came to nought. The widely expected traffic problems, for example, were largely resolved by several purposely built elevated expressways, some of which were opened only last week, and a massive police effort to keep the roads to the main venues unclogged.

Thailand's unreliable supply of electricity, however, continues to keep the Games' IT managers awake at night.

"We don't expect the computer systems to give us any major problems, the main worry is power outages," said Lee, who for 22 months has led Acer's efforts in Bangkok.

At a three-day pre-Games trial event in October, a 20-minute power cut shut down all communication between the main data centre and systems at the three venues where the trial events were held, Lee said. "It was still no problem to provide results at the venues, but the main data centre was disconnected."

Fully expecting the problem to rear its ugly head during the Games, Lee's staff focused much of their efforts on backup systems to deal with the expected outages. "We have in place backups for each server, uninterruptible power supply systems for all data collection centres, as well as backup power generators at all key venues," he said.

As the pre-Games trial outage showed, it is relatively easy to protect the actual computer systems against short power cuts, but for the Bangkok-based Samart Corp, the main networking sponsor of the Games, the power failures are a much more serious problem.

"There's not really much we can do about the power shortages," said a senior Samart official, who was on duty at one of the two main networking centres at the Games.

Asia's economic crisis, which the sharp devaluation of the Thai baht jump-started in July of last year, has also hurt Samart in a serious way. The now financially strapped Thai company was unable to completely fulfill its pledged $5 million networking sponsorship, with BAGOC contracting 3Com to take up some of the slack, sources in Bangkok said.

Billed by Acer as the world's first PC technology-based information system for an event the size of the Asian Games -- in which some 7000 athletes from 41 nations compete in 36 sports -- the hardware infrastructure consists of around 200 dual-Pentium II AcerAltos servers and 1800 AcerPower desktops, as well as over 100 networked touch-screen information kiosks.

More information about the 13th Asian Games, held in Bangkok December 6--20, can be found on the Web at