Behind Dreamworld's massive Wi-Fi rollout

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This article appeared in the April 2014 issue of CRN magazine.

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Behind Dreamworld's massive Wi-Fi rollout
Jason Jordan and Graham Wittke
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CRN sat down with Graham Wittke and Maik Straube from ASI Solutions and their client, Ardent Leisure Group IT Services & Operations manager Jason Jordan, to discuss a major networking rollout across the Gold Coast theme park.

CRN: Jason, perhaps you could start by telling us a bit about the business need that drove this project.

Jason: As the networking requirements of the park have continued to grow, we found that the equipment that we had in place was – I wouldn’t say failing us – but certainly limiting us. The previous equipment was installed maybe five or six years ago. 

From a business perspective, we were seeing the limitations; within the park we were starting to see things choke up a bit. We were also looking to improve network redundancy throughout the park to ensure if something went down, we wouldn’t lose our network. So expansion from a disaster recovery perspective was necessary. Improving overall bandwidth was also necessary and we also saw customer demand for wireless become greater.

CRN: How are the networking requirements of a theme park changing?

Jason: As more of your equipment is becoming network-enabled – even the turnstiles that let people in each day – the systems that run in the background are taking data in and providing middleware that relays to a database. You have this situation where management knows that you are capturing that data and they want to see it on the reporting side.

You have video games, you have ticket taking, you have e-commerce systems – with those types of demand growing, you are seeing more data throughput and thereby needing better infrastructure to support a network. That comes down to your bandwidth constraint and, more importantly, how you are managing what goes through and how that data is being processed.

CRN: Is the wireless network more for Dreamworld operations or for customers?

Jason: Right now, it’s a balancing act. We have a Q4U system set up over our park-wide wireless network. If a customer wants to jump the queue, they can upgrade to this service and get a ‘Q-Bot’, which is essentially a device that alerts the customer that it’s their time to ride. It’s similar technology – albeit a bit more sophisticated – to the buzzers you get at a pub to let you know your food is ready.

CRN: Is that running off the back of the wireless network?

Jason: Yes, it runs off the same park-wide wireless infrastructure that our public Wi-Fi runs off of, just on a separate SSID. Our business wireless network runs off of a different, unadvertised SSID, so the traffic is kept separate.

CRN: What are the challenges around public wireless across the park and how do you manage them?

Jason: Bandwidth was the biggest issue. The challenge is accommodating the increasing demand to utilise social media, such as Facebook and YouTube. Our customers love sharing their experiences in the park and we want to encourage it, so designing a network to cope with the demand is challenging indeed.

To date there hasn’t been a major marketing drive, as we wanted to soft-launch the capability, but it’s something our international customers will really be excited about because it gives them the opportunity to immediately show what they’ve done in the park to their friends and family back home.

CRN: Internally, who was involved in kicking off this project and how long did it take to get signed off?

Jason: Initially it was the group IT manager, Steven Wallace, and Steven van Rooyen, who was our network administrator at the time. We also took a lot of advice from Brocade on how we would actually set that up. The total timeframe was about six months.

CRN: Graham, at what point did ASI Solutions get involved and what was ASI’s input?

Graham: Ardent asked who they could partner with and our name came up through a recommendation from Brocade. We didn’t have a great deal to do with the actual implementation; we were more on the logistics and back-end stuff.

We relied heavily on Iain Robertson, who is the local Brocade systems engineer. Iain is probably one of the most knowledgeable technical people that I’ve ever met.

Then we came and had several meetings with the guys and we developed a level of comfort that in confidence we could deliver.  We didn’t supply or deploy the wireless network; we put the backbone network in and that enabled the wireless to work much more efficiently.

CRN: Why was it important that the solution was Power-over-Ethernet?

Jason: Brocade and the Power-over-Ethernet switching facilitated the meshed network across the park. This allowed the WAPs to go into areas we couldn’t previously, as the prior equipment wasn’t PoE. For Dreamworld, when you start talking about cabling, it’s not as simple as going out and putting a cable on the wall. You might have to go through an attraction, and there’s the customer disruption that goes with it. This was very low risk as regards to disruption. It just saved us a lot of time and allowed us to go a lot faster as well.

CRN: When can the work be done?  

Jason: Typically, we’re doing things from 6.00am up to open at around 9.00am. We had an external vendor, Internet Now, help us install the WAPs on top of the different attractions. Previously, Wi-Fi had a limited perimeter around each ride that was very limited in its ability.  We put in close to 33 Brocade switches and 50-60 WAPs. 

Next: Time pressures

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