Behind-the-scenes Technologies at Sea: Norwegian Epic and Cisco Networking

July 18, 2012 - 1 Comment

Several years ago, I went on a cruise with my family. There were fun things to do on board the ship, and we even had ample time left over for other things after dining, exercising, and relaxing on the sun deck. At one point, I came across a brochure about the on-board power system innovations that really impressed me. In the past, dedicated diesel engines were used for different purposes such as propelling the ship and generating electricity for cabins. The new system pooled output from these engines to form a single power plant that delivered power for everything on board, allowing greater control of power and better efficiency. That was an excellent example of system resource consolidation and pooling to me, which is showing up in other technology areas as well, such as data center virtualization.

A newly published Cisco switching case study provided a lot of insight on how Norwegian Cruise Line deployed the latest technologies to innovate guest experiences in the cruise ship industry,
and to optimize IT operations. Whether guests want to completely unplug or still stay connected, Norwegian is enhancing guest experiences with better access to entertainment, communications, goods, and services through a more advanced network on its newest ships.

The Norwegian Epic, Norwegian’s largest and most innovative cruise ship, debuted in 2010 with a long list of never-before-at-sea features. What keeps the 19-story high “city at the sea”, 4100 cabins and 1900+ crew members all together? Here’re some ideas:
– 6,000 IP phones
– 15,000 network end points
– 5,000 TVs
– 200 desktop computers
– 200 Point Of Sales systems
– 11,000 wireless access points
– plus casino devices, wireless POS devices for vending machines, personnel tracking devices, and digital signage, all powered by Cisco networking solutions and supported by Cisco’s Gold Partner ProSys.

It seems more passengers are strolling ship decks with iPads and other devices, so Norwegian began upgrading its network designs to support growing demand for high-bandwidth video, a new “Norwegian Iconcierge” service, and other possibilities given the huge bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend.

To take a closer look, did you know that Norwegian used to have six thick, heavy cables running through each pair of cabins for separate TV signals, TV service management, and Internet services?  These cables added up to thousands of pounds of weight. More importantly, they were not scalable to meet the growing needs for more innovative guest services. On board the Epic, Norwegian deployed the newest generation of Cisco Catalyst 3560-C compact switches with gigabit ports and dual uplinks to handle access points, concurrent connections, and high-bandwidth applications.  Using the Cisco compact switches, the six cables per pair of cabins were reduced to a single Ethernet cable, resulting in a major reduction in cabling weight and costs while enabling more service capabilities.  The case study has many more details. There’s one thing that stands out to me here. This is yet another technology success story with a great outcome.

Next time when you take a cruise, see if you can uncover some of these behind-the-scenes technologies at sea!

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  1. Wow! I have never thought about what goes in to making the experience onbaord a cruise liner.