The World Cup 1994 and SQL Server – we’ve come a long way

Anyone who has attended one of my classes knows that one of my passions outside of Database technology is soccer, or football as we call it outside the USA. Back in 1994 there was no professional league here in the United States but the USA was still given the privilege of hosting the World Cup, the single biggest sporting event in the world (it eclipses even the Olympics in terms of total viewers). At that time the internet was in its infancy, at least from a mainstream e-commerce point of view. It's hard to remember those days, right? I was working for Sybase in Boston, one of the World Cup venues, and Sybase was a major technology sponsor of the competition. Yes, SQL Server was going to be used to run the World Cup. And I was going to be right there in the heart of the action.

Of course, I volunteered to help out for the 2 weeks in June 1994 that Boston was involved in the competition at Foxboro stadium. My job was to show the Journalists how to use the World Cup system and to troubleshoot any problems. This was my dream job! Football and databases. I worked with Derek Rae, who was the venue director and is now the leading soccer commentator on ESPN. He did a great job coordinating all the resources. At that time the system was state-of-the-art built by EDS with Sun Solaris and Sybase SQL Server System 10 using Client/Server development tools such as Sybase's GAIN Momentum. 52 matches, 9 venues all networked using Sprint's new fiber network to support 7,500 journalists and 20,000 World Cup volunteers. A total of 3.6 million people would attend the games live with an estimated 2 billion people watching the final game on television.

The system was quite sophisticated for its time. Graphical and video-based information were combined in the database system showing highlights footage as well as historical information back to the beginnings of the FIFA World Cup in 1930. For the first time, this multi-media information would be available instantly to anyone in the world equipped with a computer and access to the internet via CompuServe. Well, "instantly" may be a stretch with those 9600 baud modems, remember? However, on the dedicated World Cup network, response was reasonably fast. The distributed system also provided accreditation and security validation to support the safety and security of the competition. And all in four languages: English, French, German and Spanish. Interestingly, the final 4 teams in the competition Brazil, Italy, Sweden and Bulgaria, as it turns out, did not have their languages supported. Oh, well, can't win them all.

Four years later, the internet revolution was in full swing and the World Cup 1998 in France again used SQL Server as its database. I was still working for Sybase, but alas I could not get into the action this time. Something about only speaking English and American as I remember. This time the requirement was for a fully functional web-based application that would support up to 100 million hits per day. Hewlett Packard was the hardware vendor now supporting 65 UNIX and NT servers and 1800 dedicated workstations for the 10 venues. Sybase used PowerBuilder and PowerDesigner (originally a French product) to develop the application. An estimated total of 37 billion cumulative viewers watched the 64 matches involving 32 countries. The web site became the most visited in sporting history.

However, Sybase CEO, Mitchell Kertzman, was not impressed by this world breaking event and Sybase released the project for subsequent tournaments as it was viewed to have little impact on the United States market. That was the straw that broke the camel's back in my book and later that year I decided to move on from Sybase (as did Mitchell by the way...). Sybase now enjoys just 2% of the database marketplace...

The World Cup web site project for Japan/Korea 2002 and Germany 2006 was then picked up by Avaya, a specialist in converged communication networks. The web site access not only grew exponentially in terms of "page impressions" (the new word for hits) but now for the first time allowed live broadband access to matches. More than 15 Terabytes of data (equivalent to 100 million books) travelled through the World Cup network during the 2006 tournament, again, breaking all sporting event records.

So I am looking forward to World Cup 2010 due to be held in South Africa. I am sure that the records will be broken once more. Will Microsoft SQL Server 2008 be used? Watch this space...



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