Emirates Palace revamps its entire wired network infrastructure, deploying a new backbone and hundreds of edge switches from Juniper Networks.
Last summer, Network Middle East conducted a case study with Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace Hotel, which in 2014 became the first hotel in the region to offer gigabit wireless connectivity to guests. The demand for mobility had skyrocketed among the hotel’s high-flying guests, so it needed a solution that could not only provide high levels of bandwidth, but also good coverage across the entirety of the property and its grounds. The answer was an Aruba Networks 802.11ac solution, and Emirates Palace now provides supremely better wireless connectivity to guests as a result of the implementation.
When we covered this story, we only mentioned in passing that the wireless roll-out was actually part of a broader network overhaul. Knowing that it wanted to offer next-generation mobility solutions — including gigabit wireless — to guests, Emirates Palace had to take a closer look at its underlying wired infrastructure. After a thorough evaluation, the hotel’s management realised that, to offer the guest services it wanted to, the wired infrastructure would be less than ideal. Therefore, as pre-cursor to the new wireless roll-out, the hotel had to revamp its entire wired network as well. This is the story of that implementation.
According to Mehmet Akdeniz, director of IT and AV at Emirates Palace, the old wired infrastructure was the best that the hotel could do when it was first implemented. But due to the changing nature of technology, and of guests’ habits as a result, the 10-year-old infrastructure was beginning to show its age. Akdeniz explains that the previous network provided a 1GB backbone internally, and 100MB internet broadband for users. But it was quickly becoming apparent that more bandwidth was needed across the board if the hotel was to continue offering high-quality guest services.
Another issue that the hotel was facing was with the number of man-hours being spent on maintaining the network. Akdeniz describes the old infrastructure as requiring something of a human touch, as the IT department had to regularly intervene to fix issues. Given that Emirates Palace is home to some of the best IT-focused brains in the business, Akdeniz considered all of this maintenance work as a drain on otherwise highly valuable talent. Simply from an operations point of view, then, the network needed a revamp.
“We had a lot of prestigious manpower spent looking after the network, looking after the users, and looking after so many issues that we thought we could do something better,” Akdeniz says.
“Apart from that, yes, we basically had the best network at the time that it was implemented, but throughout the years, the bandwidth that we had was not coping with the market norms as of today.”
Being owned by the Abu Dhabi Government, and Managed by the Kempinski Group, Emirates Palace Hotel has a rigorous procurement process, meaning that a number of guidelines for the project had to be adhered to. Initially, Akedeniz and his team wrote a report containing more than 60 pages covering compliance issues and technical requirements. The report listed every single device connected to the network, as well as all the features of the old infrastructure. Then the report outlined which features the IT department would like to see included in the new infrastructure. This document then formed the basis of the tender process, which Akdeniz said took six months.
One of the main requirements of the installation, however, would be that it would be completed with minimal disruption to guest services. Emirates Palace mandated that, just because a new deployment was going on, guests should not be affected in their access to internet and other services. After all, given the high-calibre nature of the hotel’s guests, an excuse explaining that the infrastructure was being upgraded simply wasn’t going to fly. The problem was compounded by the fact that the implementation would occur during the high season.
“We are running 24-7, so we had to come up with an installation plan that didn’t affect the guest services. This includes the TV services, the internet, and the telephones,” Akdeniz explains.
“We installed it in the high season, so the hotel occupancy was very high, so we had to make sure that the guests were not complaining, and they had no issues with any services they received. That was ultimately our main aim.”
After an elaborate selection process, Emirates Palace had two major vendors to choose between, and settled on Juniper Networks for the new wired infrastructure. According to Akdeniz, a number of factors attracted the hotel to the vendor, but one of the main deciding points was that Juniper could provide a virtaulised network within each IDF room. The new system would assign a single IP address to each IDF room, with devices within the rooms adhering to those IP addresses in a virtual management system. This would make the IT team’s life much easier when it came to managing the network, as there would be fewer manageable devices with fewer IPs.
Another deciding factor for Juniper was in the quality of support that would be given throughout the implementation phase. The solution was rolled out by UAE-based MDS Computers, but Juniper planned to provide plenty of on-hand support itself to make sure that the solution was set up correctly.
“Your product is only as good as how it’s implemented, so if you don’t have a proper vendor, if they don’t install it in a way that reflects the market norms and the best practices, basically you’ll get 10% of what you’ve paid for. So we had to look into every single protocol, and the functions, and the features in the system, and we made sure that all these functions were enabled for us,” Akdeniz says.