Halifax airport completes massive IP upgrade

The Halifax International Airport Authority said Wednesday that it has completed an IP network upgrade that touches almost every aspect of its operations, including those of the airlines it serves.

Halifax airport has spent the last few years remodeling its facility as part of a $90-million terminal expansion project that increased its public space by 40 per cent. A U.S. pre-clearance facility has been built and check-in kiosks added in order to reduce the time it takes for passengers to reach their gates.

“All this expansion required technology in those areas. We used this as an opportunity to leverage this expansion, to upgrade our technology throughout the whole building,” said Michael Healy, Halifax airport’s vice-president of technology and infrastructure.

A combination of Cisco Systems of Canada and HP Canada products and services were deployed throughout the facility to enable the IP network, which was brought online late last year.

The airport now runs its voice, data and video over the IP network. “We have upgraded our security systems, putting access control and all our videos on a IP-based platform that rides on our network. We’ve invested in a voice-over IP phone system,” said Healy, who added the airport’s digital public address system also shares the network.

“It’s a huge difference in the way we do business. Our traffic volume was growing. Halifax was getting to be a bigger and bigger airport and we needed a bigger facility. We had more airlines coming to service Halifax and we just didn’t have the check-in space,” he said.

To address this issue, Halifax airport opted to install a common-use system for the airlines it houses. They all use the same IT infrastructure now, which has resulted in a 37 per cent improvement in efficiency, said Healy. The alternative was to keep building out the airport, which could have added another $10-$12 million to construction costs.

“Their systems were removed and replaced by our systems. Once upon a time, Air Canada would have an Air Canada computer on their desk. Now they have a computer that belongs to us. It’s effectively a portal that connects back to their own reservation system in Montreal,” said Healy.

Halifax isn’t the first Canadian airport to attempt an overhaul of this scale. It is one of eight Class 1 airports in the country, and most of the others have embraced massive IT infrastructure change. “We’re not breaking new ground in the airport business itself, but we’ve made probably a more concerted move than other airports have and now we have the systems we need,” said Healy.

The system also was designed to accommodate any of Halifax airports future applications, said Reg Schade, vice-president and general manager of services for HP Canada. “When you have this kind of framework, then simplicity, standardization, modularity and integration become much easier to deal with in the future as new technologies are added.”

“They had five networks in the past. They’ve now rendered that down to one seamless network,” added Brantz Myers, director of industry marketing for Cisco Canada. “I suspect they’ll be able to deploy more applications and productivity tools on the network as they need.”

An immediate consideration for Halifax is wireless availability, said Healy. Decisions will be made later this year as to the best way to deploy Wi-Fi in the airport. A wireless network could be used by passengers for Internet access, for example, but could also be used by staff for location-based services. Airport equipment and even personnel could be tracked wirelessly.

“There are different ways to do it, but ultimately it will ride on this (IP) network,” said Healy.

Halifax airport is helping to lead the charge away from Centrex and towards fully-IP networks, said Lawrence Surtees, vice-president of communications research for IDC Canada Ltd.

Canada, particularly Atlantic Canada, is one of the world’s greatest users of Centrex, said Surtees. “I think an interesting question is, over the next two or three years, how many more Atlantic Canadian businesses and institutions will likewise cut the Centrex cord and see similar benefits . . . of IP?”

IDC Canada estimates that 2007-2008 will be the “tipping point” for more widespread adoption of IP networks in Canadian enterprises.

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