Intelligent moves

A data centre and multi-media campus network to serve 75,000 people needs not only to be based on a robust infrastructure, but also utilise some of the latest automated tools to simplify management. Colin Edwards unravels some of the complexity.

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By  Colin Edwards Published  October 31, 2006

As the first residents begin to move into the King Abdul- Aziz Endowment Project in Mecca, one of the largest data centres in the region is getting ready to deliver the services to a complex single IP-based platform that will serve 75,000 residents and the development's shops hotels and restaurants with voice, data and video services when the complex is competed in two years time.

"The data centre is the biggest one I've seen in Saudi. It's supporting 500 telecom rooms and there are 48 fibres from each telecom room coming into that data centre," says Khalid Tamraz, information transport manager at the Nagah Group, whose group companies, Hasoub, BT Applied Technologies, and Future Entertainment Works are involved in the infrastructure rollout at the mega project.

"We're running about 25,000 splices of fibre in the whole project and in the data centre there's about 10,000 feet of single mode fibre optics so that we can support the data centre itself."

The centre has also deployed Systimax's intelligent patching solution to ensure the cost of maintaining the converged voice, video and data network is minimised and ensure maximum uptime by being able to monitor and manage all patching changes automatically.

"We could have done the same thing without intelligent patching if we had wanted to save money, but our long term thinking was that it would have been very difficult to manage such a project cost effectively without it," says Tamraz.

It would certainly have made the life of group company Digital Service Provider, more difficult down the line. DSP is an operations support company and has been contracted to operate the completed data centre and complex.

"In terms of forward thinking, it was extremely smart to put intelligent patching in there as it makes the operation far easier easy to manage," he adds.

That management is going to be critical in an infrastructure comprising about three million feet of fibre optic and 40 million feet of UTP copper cabling. "This isn't just another converged voice and data network. We're putting 16 services on it.

“We're talking about the IP TV system, video-on-demand system. Everything is on the UTP IP-based network. We're talking about Internet services and wireless services we're going to provide all the uplinks to that as well as the IP telephony system," says Tamraz. One of the major challenges that had to be addressed was creating an interface between the billing systems run by the different organisations, such as the hotels and the physical meters such as water and electricity.

"Each hotel operator has its own billing system, but we needed to have an interface where they can bill the different services they deliver such as water meters on IP, or electric meters on IP.

“If someone stays at an apartment for a month, they have to be charged at a monthly basis. Something like a MICROS-Fidelio hotel billing system, which most hotels use, would not understand that so there has to be an IP interface that reads the water and electric meters and then feeds the Fidelio system at the end of the day," he says.

As with the other devices on the cores - the IP cameras, video, IPTVs, telephony, data networks, hotel lock system, security, building management, car park systems, all the different meters were hooked onto the core network. "This is no basic IP data and telephony network," he adds.

The installation of the cabling infrastructure proved a major challenge not only because of the scale of the project, but the fact that it is concentrated on just nine building towers, the tallest of which is more than half a kilometre high. Just getting the materials into the buildings was a logistical nightmare, says Tamraz.

With 25,000 people working on the site 24 x 7 demand for basic facilities and access to buildings was a problem. "You'd think you could have found some spare time when the elevators were free so that you could get your fibre reels up to the 40th floor, but it was impossible.”

It was also not a simple apartment building design where it would have been simple to install the infrastructure entailing design repetition through the complex. .It was not a design once and copy many times type of project. Instead, Nagah had to roll out the infrastructure for the project’s hotels, apartments, shops and restaurants and cope with all the usual and unavoidable design and specification changes as different user requests had to be met.

"It was critical that we got it right first time," says Tamraz. “In a project this size you just can't go back and fix the cabling infrastructure when people are starting to move in. The customer needs to get a rapid return on his investment and we have to make sure the network is there to enable that."

Systimax claims an investment in such a sophisticated infrastructure while costing more initially, will deliver a much higher return on investment in the long term and over a longer period than had a less sophisticated infrastructure been deployed, because it is capable of supporting a broader range of existing and upcoming technologies over a longer period of time.

In the case of the King Abdul- Aziz Endowment Project, this means that the customer can generate value added and billable services on the network and so recoup the initial investment over a relatively short period and enjoy higher profit contributions over the infrastructure's lifespan, which typically is projected to be in excess of 15 years.

"Network performance is key to the success of any organisation and is now viewed as an investment rather than a necessary expense," says Ciaran Forde, managing director Middle East, Pakistan & Africa, Systimax Solutions, who was in Dubai recently hosting a Systimax seminar on Powering the New Speed of Business.

Also, because of the size the project, Nagah did a simulation in the labs for all the switching, cameras and TV systems so that everything was pre-configured before it was shipped out ensuring plug and play implementation with only minor modifications needed on a few occasions.

"To coordinate with all the different vendors to achieve the IP technology on a single platform - that has been a tough challenge, " says Tamraz.

“This isn't just another converged voice and data network. We're putting 16 services on it.”

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