Temperatures often exceed 100 degrees at the aptly named Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz.; there simply isnt any air conditioning.
For 18 seasons, the Arizona Cardinals have played their National Football League home games there, under open air, to feeble crowds of sweaty fans.
Thats about to change.
Starting this coming season, the Cardinals will be playing in a $450 million stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
Designed by architect Peter Eisenman, Cardinals Stadium will feature a retractable fabric roof, a rollout natural grass field, luxury boxes and, of course, air conditioning.
It also will feature a cutting-edge communications infrastructure with a multimedia IP network.
“It seemed like a pretty clear-cut case because of the flexibility an IP-based system offers us,” said Mark Feller, technology director for the Cardinals. Feller is tasked with overseeing the network implementation for the stadium as it is being built.
“The capability of a flat system to handle voice, data and video on a single integrated network is pretty important for us,” Feller said. “Having all of those be able to run over a single network means it will be more efficient, more secure and take less technical expertise to keep it up and running. And I know what its like to have to manage a TDM [time-division multiplexing] phone system and a separate data network. I didnt want to do that anymore.”
Flexibility is especially important because the stadium is partially owned by Maricopa County; the team is only a part owner. There will be myriad organizations using the stadiums office space, both in- and off-season. The concessionaires and retailers that pitch their wares during the game will need access to the network, too.
“We know we will have all sorts of different businesses,” Feller said. “The football team will be using it a few times a year. Thats one of the reasons the IP-based system works so well. We can segment the network to accommodate those kinds of things.”
With the IP network in mind, and with the blessing of the Cardinals and the county, Feller began looking for systems integration partners in the summer of 2004. “We wanted to have one partner to help us do the entire job,” he said.
After a comprehensive search, the Cardinals chose Insight North America, a subsidiary of Insight Enterprises, largely because the company is based locally, in Tempe. Insight would work in tandem with Hunt Construction Group, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., the contractor building the new stadium.
For the past several months, Insight has had to time its optical fiber network installation with Hunts building plans. According to officials at Insight, the relationship with Hunt was a novel one.
“Ordinarily, you would have the general contractors working directly with a wireless vendor or with a cabling vendor or with a TDM phone vendor,” said Brian York, services director for the western region at Insight, who said that Insight acts as a technology general contractor of sorts in cases like this.
“Hunt has been excellent to work with,” York said. “They welcome our approach to being a technology general contractor, if you will. We will be providing the products, the services and the ongoing management in partnerships with these other organizations after the stadium is done. Were bringing this all into one integrated solution.”
Insight is in charge of the optical fiber network and for the bulk of the equipment that will run across it, including servers from IBM and client and back-end IP hardware from Cisco Systems, which also provided security software.
“[Cisco has] a great product to secure and monitor the network,” Feller said. “[They call] it their SAFE Blueprint for security. Well be using a lot of that Cisco stuff to make sure the network is safe and secure.”
In July, before beginning the network install at the new stadium, Insight overhauled the network at the teams training facility in Tempe, installing optical fiber, a handful of IP phones and a videoconferencing system. The place where the team practices seemed an appropriate place for a practice run of a network installation.
“The training stadium was a dress rehearsal for the new stadium,” York said. He added that everything basically worked the way it was meant to work and that the training installation was more a matter of “proof positive” than “lessons learned.”
For Feller, the learning curve lay in timing the network installation with the building construction. “We havent ever built a stadium before,” he said.
Getting Ready For Football
Hunt and Insight both are working under a strict deadline, dictated by the football season.
“What were expecting is that well have a preseason game ready to go live in the new building,” Feller said. “It has to be—will be—running by then.”
The preseason starts in August.
“Were going to push our timetable at the stadium to meet some other elements in the construction schedule,” York said. “We are integrated completely with the construction schedule of the stadium. All the work we do as a trade is all integrated within a common project plan.”
Eventually, Cardinals players will be able to participate in video training sessions that run simultaneously at the Tempe training facility and at the new stadium, York said.
The network at the new stadium in Glendale, approximately 21 miles from Tempe, will include some 750 IP phones from Cisco, for use by both stadium personnel and fans in luxury boxes.
In the new stadium, the IP phones will have touch-screen LCDs—allowing and encouraging fans to order food from the concession stands and to buy tickets for future games. Fans can also use the phones to participate in interactive activities such as fantasy football.
The network may also benefit sports reporters and any of the organizations that might lease stadium space in the off-season.
“Wed done several Cisco IP telephony deployments, and we feel extremely confident in their capabilities,” York said.
Insight and Feller are still evaluating vendors for a Wi-Fi network for employees, reporters and fans that also is due to be ready when the stadium opens. Feller also is considering a separate in-building radio network that would enhance cell phone coverage.
Feller said he wants to integrate the Wi-Fi and wired networks, having been convinced that there are sufficient wireless security products and protocols on the market. “Wireless has had a reputation for being leaky, but I think those leaks have been plugged up now,” he said.
As for future plans for the stadium, the sky above the retractable dome is the limit.
“The thing about the converged network is that we have the ability to be very, very flexible,” York said. “And so, moving forward, should … the team or building ownership decide that they want to head in a certain direction, well be ready.”