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By CIOinsight  |  Posted 07-01-2004 Print
Wired for Speed

The network Burke eventually installed in Terminal 1 was by far the most ambitious project he has ever worked on. To see a chart of GTAA's Network, click here. He and his team installed 50 express check-in kiosks, 40 passenger information phones on four different levels, 250 passenger check-in counters, 450 flight and baggage displays (all flat-panel monitors), 300 electronic message boards, and approximately 9,700 directional signs. The goal is for the airport to process 50 million passengers a year by 2020, more than double the 24.7 million it currently handles.

The single, most important aspect of the project was the decision to go with IP across the board, for telephony, ticketing terminals (which actually use a slick Web-based graphical user interface, rather than the arcane proprietary technologies of old), and self-service passenger kiosks. Burke opted for an IP-based campus-area network as the backbone, and connected more than 7,000 devices to it. Cisco Systems Inc. teamed up with the leading software and kiosk provider in the airport field (Atlanta-based SITA Airport and Desktop Services) to provide the backbone and front-end technology, known as CUTE (for Common Use Terminal Equipment).

The network (see chart page 40) consists of two independent, dense wavelength-division multiplexing (DWDM) rings with Multiprotocol Label Switching and SONET services for scalability. The ticketing terminals use Compaq PCs and flat-panel displays. Asked why he splurged for flat panels rather than the less-expensive CRTs, Burke says, "When you're buying as much technology as we have, you'd be amazed at the type of deals you can get." SITA took the lead on software for the entire project.

Also integrated onto the network are several video feeds. Security cameras, which Burke estimates number in the thousands, transmit over the IP network, as do the television broadcasts to monitors in the waiting areas, baggage claims, and many bars and restaurants. Even the baggage claim system and the security management company at the airport use the network. All of the airport tenants pay the same flat rate for their use of the network, though Burke won't say how much.

Even though the hundreds of flat-panel displays, Cisco IP phones and SITA kiosks are all cutting edge by airport standards, Burke downplays the role of technology. "This is a business decision, and technology is simply an enabler," he says. "There's nothing fancy about what we've done here with the technology."

Unlike some IT execs, Burke likes to make it sound straightforward and uncomplicated. His biggest challenge in implementing the common-use network at Toronto, he maintains, was battling the architects who designed the terminal. "Some of my ideas offended their aesthetic sensibilities," he says, tongue firmly in cheek.

Which is not to say that there haven't been a few glitches along the way. The call volume into the network operations center ran very close to the maximum level for a month after the terminal opened. (Most of the questions came from tenants and end-users unfamiliar with the new system.) Also, the kiosks that provide flight information were so packed with data that some users found it difficult to find their flights. Burke even fumbled with it a few times himself before deciding to tweak the Web-browser interface.


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