“Everything we do in IT is designed to maximize the guests’ ski time,” says Chesnut, who’s been busy building an IP network infrastructure to facilitate everything from check in and check out, to the operation of the ski lifts themselves. It all begins with a six-kilometre gondola ride from the parking lot at the foot of the mountains to the 3,580-acre, self-contained village at the top. Supplied and monitored by Junction, Colo.-based Poma of America, the gondola is entirely controlled by IP-based communications.
Computers — positioned at the base station, mid-point and top — communicate via IP so operators know exactly where gondola cabins are at any given moment. If a garbage cabin is loaded at the top, for example, the computer can be programmed to kick it off to the garbage chute at the bottom. Meanwhile, Poma monitors the lift remotely from its head office in Colorado, fine-tuning it and making changes to the software in real-time whenever necessary.
“For a ski lift, it’s amazing that we’re able to do stuff like that,” Chesnut says.
Equally impressive is the ski resort’s use of IP video cameras and surveillance software. More than 42 cameras are located around the mountain community, feeding images to a server in the data centre at the mountain’s base. The first IP cameras were installed in the gondola stations for security purposes as well as to manage wait lines, but they’re also being used to keep guests informed of weather and lift conditions as well as to monitor retail transactions.
“We’re working to pick up that (video) feed directly through our transactional systems so that when the supervisors are looking to verify their cashiers are ringing in what they’re supposed to be, we’ll be able to see what’s being handed across the counter,” explains Chesnut.
To support its use of IP equipment — which also includes IP telephony—- Sunshine Village needed to transition from “one big, flat network” to a more managed design that uses virtual local area networks (VLANs) to segregate different types of network traffic for security purposes.
“We figured we needed to split the network up … so we started looking around for managed switch gear.”
vlans keep traffic separate
The result of that search, which began in 2002, led Chesnut to what he refers to as “two dark horses” — the 4100 series managed switch from Hewlett-Packard’s ProCurve unit and IP telephones from Mitel Networks Corp. The decision to go with HP ProCurve gear was in part based on a favourable report from The Tolly Group suggesting the switches offered the best price per port, while the decision to go with Mitel came down to its ability to provide a hybrid system that supported both IP and analogue phones.
Sunshine Village has since upgraded to HP ProCurve 5300 series edge switches and the HP ProCurve 9308 routing switch, which is used at the network core to ensure residential, guest and corporate network traffic is kept completely separate. The current design encompasses 15 VLANs, each assigned a specific task such as credit card processing, lift operation, staff time clock monitoring or video surveillance.
To keep its network costs down, the resort installs its own fibre, a job that comes naturally to technicians used to working with huge spools of ski lift cabling. The main pipe from top to bottom currently offers 2 GB of bandwidth, but Chesnut maintains he can light up additional fibre on the 48-strand pipe whenever it’s required. “Whenever we need fibre we just go ahead and put it in,” he says, adding that fibre optic rings have been installed to each of the resort’s buildings.
Even though video traffic currently accounts for 80 percent of all network traffic, Chesnut says quality of service has never been an issue since the backbone is only running at four per cent capacity. “Even with the cameras making up 80 percent of the traffic, 80 per cent of four is nothing,” he says.