High-Speed Network Takes Off

By Paula Musich  |  Posted 2004-09-27

High-Speed Network Takes Off

When the Harrisburg International Airport opened its new transportation complex at the end of August, its infrastructure included a high-speed network that airlines and car rental agencies are required to use.

The Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority, which runs the airport, is joining a handful of other U.S. airport authorities in installing its own high-speed network rather than allow airlines to build and maintain networks of their own within the new facilities.

In building the new $220 million transportation complex to accommodate an increase in travelers and comply with the 2001 Aviation Transportation & Security Act, the airport authority is giving tenants access to a Gigabit Ethernet network for voice and data traffic as part of their normal rent.

The network was created to avoid ripping apart the new facility to accommodate inevitable future moves and changes and to offer more advanced services as a competitive advantage over other facilities nearby, said Mark Berkheimer, IT director for the airport, in Middletown, Pa.

"Airports dont want to build multimillion-dollar facilities and then have another contractor come in and tear out walls," said Berkheimer. "Everybody uses the same technology. Why have six different airlines run their own cables and rip out the wall [every time they move]?"

The 350,000-square-foot complex, which will eventually house an Amtrak rail station that will also be tied in to the network, was designed to better support the 1.2 million passengers who go through it each year to use eight major airlines.

The Harrisburg airport joined the ranks of others, such as San Francisco International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport and Toronto Pearson International Airport, that are providing common-use networks and other IT infrastructure for airlines and rental car agencies.

Despite push-back from an industry that is loath to change, the common Gigabit Ethernet network lowered costs for both the airport authority and the airlines.

"It ends up being cheaper for the tenant because they dont need to invest in that infrastructure," Berkheimer said. "They dont need to pay a contractor to wire their locations. They just install a router, plug it in and away they go."

The move to make the network part of the overall infrastructure of an airport facility works best for smaller, regional airports that build and own the buildings, rather than for airlines. It also works for new terminals owned by the airport authority and rented out by smaller airlines. San Francisco, in its new international terminal, provides common-use equipment that includes computers and printers.

Although the Harrisburg airport didnt go to that extent, it owns and maintains the 3Com Corp. network switches, the IP PBX shared by all the tenants, network security and WAN access.

The new terminal provides tenants with Fast Ethernet links that connect to the Gigabit Ethernet backbone. Tenants use two logical networks, one for voice and the other for data.

The core switch for the network backbone is a 3Com Switch 7700R. "It is a dual-fabric switch with three power supplies in it," Berkheimer said. "The redundancy built into that made me feel comfortable, and we have 4-hour response time in our maintenance agreement."

Tenants connect to 3Com SuperStack 3 4400 48-port switches using Fast Ethernet. Wiring closets include 4400s that support power over Ethernet for the logical voice network. The 4400s then connect to the Gigabit Ethernet backbone using redundant optical fiber links. Total throughput in the core 7700 switch is 96G bps.

Each airline has its own VLAN (virtual LAN) to prevent personnel at one airline from accessing a rivals system. Supplying additional security are two 3Com Security Switch 6200s, which provide intrusion detection and prevention, firewalls between VLANs, virtual private networks, content and spam filters, and anti-virus scanners. The network, which uses RADIUS (Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service) to recognize MAC (media-access-control) addresses and assign VLANs, supports 22 VLANs for tenants and the airport authority.

Next page: Every phone will be VOIP.

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For WAN connectivity for airport personnel, the network provides a pair of 3Com Router 5680s, and airlines provide their own routers and WAN links.

The new transportation complex will use VOIP (voice over IP) extensively. Some 250 handsets are scattered around the airport. "Every telephone in the building will be VOIP," said Berkheimer.

That connectivity is provided by six 3Com SuperStack 3 NBX Networked Telephony IP PBXes. The IP PBXes and IP handsets are powered by the 3Com SuperStack 3 Switch 4400PWRs installed in wiring closets.

The airport authority wanted to deal with a single vendor and a single maintenance contract for the network. It chose 3Com as its network provider because of a good track record already established with the airport as well as other factors.

"I dont feel comfortable with Ciscos VOIP solutions," said Berkheimer, who said he had heard of reliability problems with Cisco VOIP offerings. "Places around here tried [them] and replaced [them] because of reliability problems. And also [Ciscos VOIP offering] runs on Windows. This way, I dont have to worry about denial-of-service attacks and viruses and other things the Cisco platform has to deal with."

3Coms switch hardware also has more available throughput on it, and Berkheimer was comfortable enough with past 3Com support to "bring it out on a large scale like this. Cost was a final factor. It wasnt the item that made up my mind, but it was a third less than what the Cisco solution was," he said.

The network was designed to support applications from each of the eight airlines, six rental car agencies as well as food and retail shops—along with all their voice traffic. The primary application for airlines and rental car agencies is provided by Sabre Holdings Corp., of Southlake, Texas, as well as other reservation systems.

Airport authority applications include Microsoft Corp.s Navision accounting software, Datastreams MP2 facility maintenance application, a property management system, and Web and Microsoft Exchange e-mail.

The network also supports wireless access. The airport authority opted to make that access free to travelers as a competitive advantage over other airports. "Our biggest competition is Baltimore/ Washington International. They charge $8 a day. For us, its an extra perk that doesnt cost us much to provide. We already have the T-1s installed for our own Internet access. It wasnt a big deal to keep it separate from our traffic. Customer service has instructions on how to configure your laptop, so we have very few phone calls needing help," said Berkheimer.

The network, which cost about $600,000 to build, has been running since late August. Despite the initial push-back from airlines over the change, Berkheimer hasnt heard a peep from the tenants since the new facility opened. "The airline industry doesnt like change. As soon as you come up with a new idea, they have problems. We gave them no other choice. Today, [the networks] working and nobodys complaining," he said.

So far, users of the network are pleased. "Its working just fine. I think theres always concern when youre dealing with a job of that magnitude. But everything is running smoothly," said David Barbush, vice president of Barbush Rentals Inc., the Avis licensee at the Harrisburg airport.

Check out eWEEK.coms Infrastructure Center at http://infrastructure.eweek.com for the latest news, views and analysis on servers, switches and networking protocols for the enterprise and small businesses.

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