Cruise Line: Smooth WAN Sailing

Peribit helps Royal Caribbean optimize its satellite network.

A year ago, network operators at Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines found themselves between a rock and a hard place. The cruise line was planning to distribute even more application traffic across the fleet of 25 ships satellite frame relay links, but existing traffic was already choking on the 128K-bps to 192K-bps service.

The obvious solution of a bandwidth upgrade was costly. With the clock ticking on the end of a budget cycle, the IT team knew it had to act quickly or lose precious funding for the project. With two months to come up with a recommendation, network operators learned about another alternative: WAN optimization.

They turned to upstart Peribit Networks Inc., of Santa Clara, Calif., to see if its Sequence Reducer appliances could help them get more from their existing links and relieve the congestion that caused ship crew members to complain about response times. "Peribit loaned us a unit for a ship and another box for the office [to test out the optimization]," said Christopher Ennevor, senior communications engineer for the cruise line, in Miami.

Right away, the feedback from IT staff on board the ship improved, officials said, and the Peribit Sequence Reducers performance reports showed a marked improvement. "We reduced traffic [on the links] by a 10-1 ratio," said Felipe Mendoza, senior network planning analyst at the cruise lines.

With the cost to outfit the ships and data center with the Sequence Reducer about the equivalent of what it would cost for one month to bump up the data rates by 64K bps for each ship, it was a no-brainer to go with the WAN optimizers, according to Mendoza.

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The deployment was "one of the easiest" that Ennevor said he has seen. "I preconfigured them [in Miami] with IP address and basic configuration, sent them with instructions to on-board IT folks, and they plugged in a couple of Ethernet cables, powered it up, and I went in and powered up the Reduction Engine," Ennevor said.

"It gave us a years reprieve from having to increase our ship-to-shore bandwidth. That saved us $1.3 million," said Aurora Aday, manager of network communication solutions at Royal Caribbean.

That savings doesnt take into account the productivity improvement for crews trying to execute large FTP transfers for data replication between on-board computers and the data center. Before WAN optimization, the congestion got so bad that some crew members would have to wait until the middle of the night to execute large file transfers, such as passenger manifests.

With voice, data transfer and corporate Internet traffic sharing the satellite frame relay service, supplied by Maritime Telecom Network, the growing number of corporate applications were seeing significant delays before the implementation.

"Most of the big files are manifests for passenger data. Were online with our credit card institution. We do file transfers multiple times during the day to validate the credit cards of the guests to make sure they have enough funds to use them on the cruise," said Mendoza.

The implementation, which included two Peribit SR-50s and an SR-20 on each ship, today extends to a total of 28 ships, as well as two private island resorts owned by Royal Caribbean.

With the success seen in ship-to-shore communications, Mendoza and his team also recommended the Peribit WAN optimizers for another critical project designed to help the cruise line more effectively mine its customer database for more targeted marketing to its customers.

In that project, Royal Caribbean wanted to replicate its giant customer database, located at a Dallas hosting provider, to perform analysis against the data in Miami. But the database, at 150GB and more than 1 billion rows, was impossible to copy over existing fractional T-1 lines or even upgraded full T-1 links. There was no guarantee a T-3 line would fit the bill.

The business, which followed Mendozas recommendation for using "properly sized" SR-20s, brought the data replication time down from a week and a half to two days, he said.

With those successes under its belt, Royal Caribbean is planning to distribute even more applications across its ship-to-shore links, and this time it will have to upgrade its frame relay links. But the payoff will be even greater staff productivity and an enhanced guest experience, said Aday. "We are adding more distributed applications to the ships," she said. "That will allow us to better service our guests and prepare a more personalized experience based on what we know about them."

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