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High-tech amusement park keeps special-needs guests connected

Ann Bednarz, Network World | April 4, 2011
Morgan's Wonderland hosts thousands of special-needs children, adults and their families. Each guest at the Austin theme park wears an RFID wristband for location tracking and to link to critical personal information, such as medical conditions and allergies.

Using the ring topology was the "perfect way to decrease their implementation costs, because we reduced the amount of fiber the park had to use compared to hub and spoke," says John Matthews, a systems engineer at Alcatel-Lucent. "We also increased the redundancy by providing a ring and making sure that every location has a least two ways out to the backbone."

The network has to conform to a number of security standards, Zumwalt says. Because on-site merchants handle credit card transactions, the network needs to be PCI-compliant, for instance. The network also adheres to HIPAA regulations since the park collects some medical information about guests.

Traffic segmentation and authentication features built into Alcatel-Lucent's OmniSwitch 6850 and 6855 switches allow the park to give network access to guests and to third-parties using the amphitheater and conference facilities. In all, the infrastructure supports 17 virtual LANs for IT and telephony services including point-of-sale systems, workstations, IP cameras, VoIP, guest wireless, lighting controls and digital signage.

"We had a unique goal of securing their network while also keeping it as open as possible," Matthews says. "When a person plugs into the network, it knows who it is via the MAC address and places them in the appropriate VLAN, so you don't have the RFID tags getting into same VLAN as the point-of-sale system, for instance."

Another critical feature of the Alcatel-Lucent switches is the ability to supply power over Ethernet (PoE) to devices such as security cameras and VoIP phones. That saved the team from having to install power outlets everywhere during construction, and it makes it easy to relocate security cameras and phone as demands change, Zumwalt says.

In deploying the equipment, the IT team had to be thrifty about the real estate space it consumed. There's a small data room in the main administration building that houses virtualized servers running on IBM BladeCenter systems. Throughout the park, switches are hidden in non-climate-controlled boxes designed to blend into the landscape. The hardened OmniSwitch devices were selected in part for their ruggedness, since they need to be able to withstand the temperature extremes of the south Texas climate, Zumwalt says. Summertime heat can hit triple digits, and with the heat of the electronics factored in, the temperature inside the switch cabinets can top 125 degrees.

Looking ahead, there's plenty of room for bandwidth growth as development around the park and adjacent soccer facility (which uses the same network infrastructure) continues. Morgan's Wonderland is currently using two out of 12 strands of the installed fiber, which leaves another 5GB bandwidth capacity available.

"They've got 10 more strands to tap into," Zumwalt says. "From a long-term perspective, they could go another 20 years without having to lay another cable."


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