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The Network on Wheels – Raising Funds for Paralympic Athletes

October 30, 2012
at 9:37 am PST

“You mean you can Facetime us from your camp site”, my daughter said incredulously. “From the middle of nowhere?” she continued.  ”You lot are mad!”  OK she was more annoyed that I was taking our WiFi-only iPad away with me as I took some time out of my day job in Cisco Data Center Services, to participate in 2 stages of the Deloitte Ride Across Britain. Prior to the ride, I blogged about this challenge here, discussing the scale of the event and our target to raise money for Paralympic athletes.   A nine day, 969 mile cycle over some of the most challenging terrain in Britain, the ‘Deloitte Ride Across Britain’ was an immense physical and mental challenge.  From Saturday 8th September until Sunday 16th September (just passed), over 700 riders took part in this epic journey from Land’s End to John O’Groats.  For the second year in a row, Cisco provided key technical support to the riders, so that they were able to focus fully on this enormous and exciting journey.

What (technically) made possible my hope to Facetime back to my family en-route on the RAB (as we called it),  was the Cisco Network On Wheels -- the NOW Van as we called it -- basically a small bus filled with  few Cisco routers, switches, a ASA firewall, a number of Cisco IP phones, a Cisco TelePresence EX90 unit, wireless access points (hardened for outside use) and a few other pieces of kit.

Camp Site Internet Access - Courtesy of the Cisco NOW Van

RAB Camp Site Internet Access - Courtesy of the Cisco NOW Van in the background

The Cisco  NOW Van provided internet connectivity for 700+ cyclists, for the whole 969 mile route route from Lands End to John O’Groats (the “start” and “end” of the British isles).  Let’s have a look inside the NOW Van and at the camp site setup to show you how we did it.   Thanks to my colleagues  Gerry Littlejohn and Mark Ley, Systems Engineers in the Cisco UK & Ireland team, for much of the information here, and to Mark in particular for the video clip of the NOV VAN itself.  Photos courtesy of Chris Litt, Samantha Moylan Heydt, Ian Foddering and myself.  And finally, thanks also to our friends at Harris Caprock, who provided the satellite link.

So, now onto a few details of how we managed to deliver TelePresence over satellite for the event kick-off, and also both Cisco Unified Communications and internet access into each of the 9 camp sites along the route.

As the Technology Partner of the Ride Across Britain, Cisco, (in partnership with Harris Caprock), will be provided everyone at the event with Internet access to communicate with their family and friends, publish blogs and updates on how each day’s ride has been and see the support that they are all getting for this test of endurance.

This year, the Cisco NOW van:

  • Facilitated motivational speakers from Cisco House at the Olympic Park to greet the riders in their welcoming ceremony via Cisco Telepresence.
  • Showcased the flexibility for Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD).
  • Improved and secured the end user experience with Cisco WAN Optimisation (WAAS) and ScanSafe Web Security / Web Filtering.
  • Deployed a wireless network infrastructure across the camp to provide greater coverage and connected user density.

The Cisco NOW van was the communications hub for the RAB.   It hosted the routers, switches and wireless access that made the remote (and with the RAB route spanning the length of Britain, I mean very remote!!) internet access feasible.   As well as Cisco Unified Communications and Cisco IP Phones, use of Cisco Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) enabled us to run TelePresence over satellite.

Cisco NOW Van Capabilities
 

One of the several (ruggedized) wireless access points distributed across the camp area

TelePresence was used in the event kick off, delivered by Tim Reddish live from the Cisco House at the London Olympic Park, direct to the first RAB camp site at Lands End, where he gave an inspiring launch to the event.

(Next year, incidentally, we’re planning to encourage participants to download the Cisco Jabber Video for TelePresence application at home so they can connect from the Cisco NOW Van to their families!)

Across each camp site, we distributed a number of wireless access points across the camp so that internet access was feasible in the tents as well as in the central marquees.

Our NOW Van Technical Team also employed Cisco Prime Infrastructure on a daily basis to monitor the health of the Wireless Mesh network and where required, making alterations to access point locations based on the shifting load patterns of connected users.

This overall setup enabled us to support quite a range of devices (70% of which were Apple devices), as you can see from the charts below.  One observation from the client count chart is how wireless access picked up later in the day, as participants arrived after a hard day cycling, peaking around “lights out” time at 10pm.   You can also see from this chart, by the peaks and troughs of usage, which days were toughest on the RAB for the participants -- we were too tired to do much surfing on these days!  And you can also see the joy of completion on the final day, when around 250 participants used the Internet access to tell friends and families that they had survived and completed the 969 mile route!!

NOW Van Usage Statistics

NOW Van Usage Statistics

Each day on the RAB, the Cisco NOW VAN moved between each of the 9 camp sites, where RAB cyclists spent the night under the stars (or as it happened on quite a few days, including the 2 I took part on, the rain clouds!) -- including places such as the foot of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain.

Cisco NOW Van on Location

Satellite access was provided by our friends at Harris Caprock.  And as I mentioned above, the use of Cisco WAAS enable us to run rich content video and voice applications, as well as supporting the hundreds who made good use of the wireless internet access.

 

As you can see, the Cisco NOW van was a great success, delivering network access to camp sites across the UK on each of the 9 days of the RAB.

Surprisingly today, with widespread wireless access in many of the shops, airports, and other locations we visit, we in Cisco from time to time are quizzed by customers on the viability of wireless access for heavyweight business use.  Judging by the Cisco NOW Van on the RAB, if we can set-up a wireless network each day in a range of remote camp sites, I think it’s safe to say we can set-up wireless just about anywhere!

So back to my opening comment to conclude … did I get to Facetime back to my family?  Well … long story here …. on the days that I did the RAB, and of course they were the toughest days of the entire RAB! :-)  (well at least my first day was officially the toughest day ever to date on the RAB series) … I was too busy getting ready for the next stage (and to be honest too tired!) to make time to Facetime back home!   I’ll write more on the actual cycle in my next blog.

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8 Comments.


  1. October 31, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    Really epitomizes a communication network on wheels. Thanks for sharing!

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  2. Thanks for sharing. I would be interested in hearing what the bandwidth was for the sat link from Caprock.
    Also, how the EX90 performed with the high delay over the link.

    Thanks,
    Rick

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    • Stephen Speirs

      Hi Rick
      Great question. The satellite link was a 3Mb symmetrical link and we tended to keep the endpoints limited to a 1Mb call to keep costs more reasonable for our partner, Harris Caprock, who were paying for the satellite costs – thanks guys at Harris Caprock! The exception was when we did the launch TelePresence with Tim Reddish. Candidly, in advance of the launch at the first camp site – - with 700+ participants and 100 or so event support staff looking on – we were a little worried on that one! For the launch (and the picture for this is in the blog), we went up to 1.5Mb on the link. Additionally, as a precaution, we had shut down all the wireless access whilst running the session. It did work very well, we were very pleased, and our worries were unfounded.

      Mark Ley on our technical team supporting the NOV Van did call back home on the EX90 just about every evening and he tells me that he didn’t have any perceivable issue with the lag (~ 560ms RTT to the ground station in Aberdeen). He did experience a little pixelation every now and then, but only if waving arms around!

      Just goes to show that this Cisco TelePresence gear is pretty well designed if you ask me! I have been told in the past that the original design focused on mitigating such delay issues, so I guess this is a good proof-point.

      Hope this helps!
      Stephen

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  3. Thanks a lot Stephen! Just what I needed.
    We will be deplyoing an EX90 to one of our offshore rigs. We have a 3Mb/s upgrade coming from Caprock.
    So I expect performance should be ok.

    /Rick

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    • Stephen Speirs

      Good to hear Rick. Is the Caprock link shared with other network resources? If so – and I know you will know this – we’d advise you to ensure QoS is setup to protect that video traffic.

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  4. Yes, it will be shared. So we will being including QoS in the configuration.

    /Rick

       0 likes