Monday, 11 August 2008

Beijing 2008

The Beijing 2008 Olympic opened with the most spectacular opening ceremony ever. It was China's coming-out party and China spared no effort and expense to impress the world - and indeed it did.

To me, the weeekend was pretty much an Olympic weekend - watching the events on TV and internet, reading the latest news and results from the Beijing2008.com website.

The website is managed by China's largest information portal - sohu.com. Sohu deployed 600 quad-core Intel Xeon powered servers to host the website, plus 300 more as backup servers. The massive infrastructure supports millions of concurrent users and billions of hits a day. On the software side, they used Apache 2.2.3 running on Red Hat Linux and the web technology is the good old shtml! This is an interesting software stack and all open source and free. It's no secret that the Chinese government favours Linux - who doesn't?! The combination of shtml over Apache is quite appropriate for websites like this: contents are manually input and updated; the need for a database is very low.

shtml is good for using with template pages and then dynamically include the corresponding contents from other files. There is really no need for a full-blown database server for an Olympic website - the Game results are not particularly large or complicated, they are not even uniformly structured (each event has its own rules and ways of expressing the results). All you need is a good content management system (and indeed Sohu used one, which likely uses a database server itself) due to the frequent and current updates to the contents and their distribution to the large number of servers.

I still remember the Sydney 2000 Games where IBM was contracted to provide the IT infrastructure. Unsurprisingly, IBM used Websphere and Java technology to implement the official website. With such resource-hungry beasts, I'd image they needed at least double the amount of hardware to support the same level of service (even if they were as powerful as the quad-core Xeon servers).

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