Royal flush

The recently opened Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi aims to be the last word in grandeur and underpinning its efforts is a cutting edge infrastructure.

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By  Simon Duddy Published  April 30, 2005

|~|empalace_m.jpg|~|The Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi, which is owned by government of Abu Dhabi and operated by Kempinski, sits in a 247 hectare beachfront site and has accommodation for 22 heads of state.|~|The IT department at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi has pulled out all the stops to create an infrastructure in keeping with the grand design of the newly opened hotel. The five star deluxe establishment, which is owned by government of Abu Dhabi and operated by Kempinski, sits in a 247 hectare beachfront site and has accommodation for 22 heads of state. The network implementation comprises 15,000 data ports, 34km of outdoor copper cable and 100km of indoor copper cable, with the wireless network extending to the beach, pools and marina. The wired, wireless and telephony installations were carried out by Emirates Computers with Bond Communications also working on the audiovisual side. The implementation went live in January in time for the hotel’s February soft launch. “The infrastructure is the biggest part of the IT installation and the least noticed,” says Martin Coeshott, director of IT at Emirates Palace hotel Abu Dhabi. “The network is key to the very concept of the building. It had to be future proof, very stable and be capable of heavy throughput,” he adds. The IT department is focused on getting maximum return on investment for the network and sees this being achieved through having a future proof infrastructure and generating revenue. “The biggest return we expect is that over the next few years we won’t have to re-invest in infrastructure,” says Coeshott. “We are also looking to maximise revenue. I used to work in operations so the IT department is very attuned to business needs and sees its role as suggesting new functionality to the operations management,” he explains. One of the most important potential revenue sources for the hotel is holding functions and conferences. Coeshott reasons that the bigger and better the infrastructure, the more customers will be able to do with it and the more attractive it will be to them. In a bid to attract as much business as possible, Emirates Palace has built its infrastructure to cater for high-end broadcast traffic. The hotel incorporates a ballroom that can seat 2000 and an auditorium that can seat 1200 and needed an infrastructure that could handle video broadcast between the two. Emirates Palace also claims to be the first hotel in the world to incorporate audiovisual technology (AV) and telephony into the IT department’s responsibilities. It made this decision partly in response to the need to incorporate IP phones and IP projectors into the systems, but the approach creates new challenges. “Customers face a learning curve when they deal with us,” says Coeshott. “The client usually has a strong mindset that data, voice and video should be separate but once we explain why the system is integrated and how much more they can do with it they understand and typically use the equipment more,” he adds. The network is based on a fibre optic cable backbone, which can handle a throughput of 4.5Gbytes/s, with the hotel using Gigabit copper cabling to the desktop. Tyco Electronics provided the cabling, as well as the building management system and the fire and security system. On the active device side, the Palace opted for Cisco making an investment in 421 Catalyst 3560-48PS edge switches, five 6509 core switches and two 2950LRE switches, which are used to provide network connectivity to external buildings. Furthermore, the hotel installed two 3750 DMZ switches and 12 3550 aggregated switches from Cisco. The network is partitioned into 120 VLANs. To access the wide area, the IT department has set up VPN tunnels and has WatchGuard and Cisco firewalls on different sides of the VLANs. The hotel plans to incorporate a wide area network in the future and says it will go with Cisco routers. “The key points are expandability and redundancy. The switches have lots of room for expansion and there is not one single point of failure in the network. We’ve even backed-up the patches between switches,” says Coeshott. In addition to the wired network, Emirates Palace has made a substantial investment in wireless technology, with 670 wireless access points (WAPs) throughput the property. The IT department’s brief was to guarantee 70% signal strength throughout the hotel. This translates to good to excellent wireless coverage in all areas with no dead zones. As the hotel was built with concrete, marble and granite, the IT department had to deploy a huge number of WAPs to ensure coverage. “Wireless is central to our infrastructure plans,” says Coeshott. “It’s not just a hot spot, we have touchscreen wireless remotes in every room, wireless voice over internet protocol (VoIP) and have staff administration as well as guest internet access on the wireless network. If the wireless went down we’d have a lot of problems operationally,” he adds. The hotel also uses VoIP over Wi-Fi, as it enables guests to use a portable phone, which keeps the extension of their room and allows them to be contacted by direct dial wherever they go in the hotel, even out to the beach or marina. The installation consists predominately of Alcatel IP phones, with the hotel buying 525 Alcatel 4068 IP phones and also 4020 and 4035 digital phones from Alcatel. Emirates Palace also uses 16 Spectralink wireless IP phones, which link wireless IP calls to the PBX via SVP servers and wireless gateways, which are also from Spectralink. “Performance is good,” says Coeshott. “But when you move between WAPs you get a 100ms break. It’s not enough to lose the connection, but you do lose sound. For the wireless telephony technology, we looked at Cisco originally but it couldn’t integrate through our Alcatel 4400 PBX properly, so we went for Spectralink.” Security is of utmost concern to the Emirates Palace, so it has placed a host of obstacles in the way of would-be attackers. The hotel has deployed 16 firewalls from a variety of vendors with eight redundant, plus four hardware intrusion detection systems (IDS), in addition to software host IDS on the servers. “We’re a palace so one of the prerequisites is tight security,” says Coeshott. “We are a big target, with 1,000 public IP addresses and we have seen professional attacks. We had people trying, with administration passwords, to get on to a PC through a pipe that was created on the internet. However, we have a NetIQ agent on each client, so we could cut it off,” he adds. The hotel also has a network security consultancy firm doing internal and external penetration tests to enhance readiness. In management terms, the network presents a huge headache, both from personnel and software points of view. Coeshott heads up a 26-strong IT team and uses three network management software suites —NetIQ, CiscoWorks and HP Openview. “If we get a complaint from the guest room it could be anything and the first thing we have to check is the network. If the LAN is up then we check the room equipment,” says Coeshott. “We monitor the network constantly, including all manageable switches and log all firewall requests — it needs a lot of monitoring,” he adds. The Emirates Palace implementation shows what can be achieved when business objectives are well aligned with IT priorities, although of course it helps when the IT department has a huge budget at its disposal.||**||

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