Network Visibility Case Study - Gatwick Airport

Aruba Mobile First Architecture powers a platform for experience-oriented innovation at world's most efficient, single-runway airport

Gatwick is the world's most efficient single-runway airport. It handles 46 million passengers a year, up from 33 million in 2010, with almost 1,000 planes landing and taking off each day. For this to work smoothly, process efficiency and uninterrupted communications are crucial.

"We have 12,000 passengers arriving every hour, and we aim to process each of them within five minutes," says Cathal Corcoran, CIO, Gatwick Airport. "On top of that, we're always building. We're an airport, a mall, a construction site, a city and a critical piece of national infrastructure. If we have a bad day at Gatwick it affects real lives."

Innovative, technologically advanced

What we really liked about HPE, Aruba and Pointnext, was the end-to-end offering. It was a very simple strategy, a very simple set of solutions that we poured in. Single-vendor kit, design and architecture. They put it in for us, and then they are going to support it. Cathal Corcoran, CIO, Gatwick Airport

The airport lives by the mantra keep planes moving, keep passengers moving, keep bags moving. "Our vision is to be the most technologically advanced, most innovative airport in the world," says Corcoran. "The two go hand in hand. And we can't do that on our own."

For Gatwick, the challenge is bringing through technology without impacting airport operations. There is very little opportunity for downtime. "We only ever have four hours a night, three or four nights a week – and two of those hours are needed for roll-back," says Corcoran. "When we make a technology decision it has to be one that will work for us for a long time."

A network to support growth and a smart digital workplace

Understandably, the airport's network is business critical. "The network is the central nervous system of the airport," says Abhi Chacko, head if IT Commercial and Innovation, Gatwick Airport.

With more services dependent on the network, from e-gates to car parking to 4,000 CCTV cameras, resiliency is fundamental. Security is paramount.

The old network provided a limited number of data paths to communicate between its constituent components. Gatwick wanted to simplify this architecture, with a fully meshed design providing vastly more data links and efficiencies, making it much more resilient to disruption. More than this, Corcoran wanted a network on which to build innovation, from an operational and passenger experience perspective. With long-term value in mind, Gatwick wanted to exploit data, mobility, and IoT trends.

Travelers checking in at Gatwick Airport

"We've seen record-breaking passenger growth since 2010 and to make sure our passengers have the best experience possible, we needed a new network that could handle our expected future growth numbers," he says. "The architecture of the old network was 15 years old. The replacement must provide the latest and greatest. It must be a long-term platform, but also something we can add to."

The airport wanted a solution forklifted in place in record time, with no downtime or instability. With the exception of all but one solution provider, Corcoran was being told such a project would take four years: "We were told we were crazy." The HPE and Aruba solution was implemented in 18 months by HPE Pointnext.

More resilient, better prepared for the future

The new HPE data centre and Aruba Campus Edge and Wi-Fi architecture, enables the airport to take advantage of new, modern technologies for the benefit of all airport users – including more than 250 onsite businesses, airlines, ground service providers, passengers and 30,000 staff. The solution makes the network more resilient, highly available, and future-proofs Gatwick's investment.

Luggage being loaded onto the plane

"The deployment of the new network in both the campus and data centre has transformed the way the network performs, both in terms of capacity and reliability," says Nick Batchelor, head of IT Operations, Gatwick Airport. "It's given us around about 100X uplift in terms of overall capability and since the implementation, there have been no disruptions."

Gatwick's modern network now supports thousands of terabytes/second switching capacity; hundreds of VPN instances for multi-tenant solutions; tens of multicast VPN instances for various applications, provisioning capacity for hundreds of thousands of multicast groups; millions of IPv4 address routing capacity. In addition, it ensures the scalability to cope with future demands with tens of HPE FlexFabric 12900E switches, hundreds of HPE FlexFabric 5930 switches and over 300 stacks of Aruba 2930M Campus Access switches, to support thousands of 1G ports and hundreds of 10G/40G ports. The Aruba Mobile First Architecture covers the site by over 1,500 indoor and outdoor Aruba wireless access points, with the digital edge secured using Aruba ClearPass and the health of the entire wireless estate monitored through Aruba AirWave. Wireless connectivity is extended to all areas of the airport; landside, airside and on the tarmac for ground services and airlines, as well as passengers.

Massive amounts of video and analytical data, amounting to almost 10 petabytes, are recorded from the CCTVs around the airport, managed by nine HPE 3PAR storage systems.

The simplified data centre network architecture, based on the HPE Intelligent Resilient Framework technology, replaces the legacy three-tier design with a flatter topology, all-active links and superior performance.

Streamlined project management

Strong partnership between Gatwick Airport, Aruba R&D teams, HPE and HPE Pointnext teams ensured the successful execution of one of the most complex transitions, while maintaining continuity of the airport network operations.

The data centre project strategy was to significantly streamline processes to keep things simple, with HPE designing, implementing and installing everything from start to finish. The project was de-risked for Gatwick by providing a proof of concept approach to demonstrate the viability of the solution based on a real Gatwick environment. Thousands of use cases and test scenarios were executed before going live to confirm all aspects of the network design and operation. Once, satisfied with the solution capabilities, Gatwick chose the HPE Data Centre Networking architecture and Pointnext team to automate and simplify the complex migration using HPE IP and tools. A dashboard was provided for stakeholders with an audit trail of activities.

Completed within the 18-months target, while the airport remained 100% operational, the project was completed without any downtime or instability. HPE Pointnext will also provide ongoing management of the new network.

A step change in Wi-Fi performance

Aruba outdoor access point mounted at Gatwick Airport, with a plane taking off in the background

By removing bottlenecks and potential single points of failure, and by utilising a backbone based on many multiples of 40Gb connections, Gatwick's new network represents a step change in resilience and performance. The new network has run without a hitch, with almost zero interruptions. For a major airport, in wireless terms, it is a market-leading service.

"The network's capability has been uplifted by such a scale that it now matches that of an Internet Service Provider," says Corcoran. "When the chips are down, it's when partnership's important. It has always felt like a partnership with Aruba and HPE."

Simplified network visibility and management

With tens of thousands of passengers arriving each day, most of them carrying at least one mobile device, the combination of Aruba AirWave and Aruba ClearPass provides simplified performance visibility and security across the wireless network.

Two travelers using mobile phones at an airport shop

"If we're not careful, it becomes a very congested picture out there," says Batchelor. "Aruba AirWave gives us great insight into where there are pinch points and we can automatically configure and optimise the network to provide the maximum wireless experience for passengers. Aruba ClearPass allows us to consolidate all access control to the wireless network around a single point."

"Working with Aruba literally cuts down on the sheer numbers of boots on the ground that we need to manage that would otherwise be an incredibly geographically widespread network. Rather than having people disappearing all over the airport, we can very effectively manage the entire network from a central point."

One of the advantages of using Aruba ClearPass has been the consolidation of the SSIDs around the airport. With a role-based approach, all the businesses can access the same SSID. Once they have been identified and authenticated, they gain access to their specific domain and approved network resources.

More efficient operations, a better passenger experience

Increasing the airport's data capability means Gatwick, its passengers and on-site businesses will be able to take advantage of the latest technologies. The airport currently has 40 digital projects underway, many of which will completely change the passenger experience and improve efficiency across the airport. These include:

  • Internet of Things – deploying sensors to measure numerous parameters including waste bin levels, occupancy of check in desks, table availability or pond water levels
  • Superfast Wi-Fi – Free Wi-Fi for passengers which typically gives more than 30mbps download speed
  • New apps - The airport's passenger-facing app currently has 100,000 downloads, the community app for staff has 13,000 users. Both apps will add new features and functionality.
  • Network for campus entities – Stable network services for airlines, ground handlers and retailers, improving the flexibility and stability of their business operations, in addition to generating IT related revenue for the airport
  • CCTV & IPTV services – Ability to operate high definition CCTV and IPTV systems
  • Passenger flow analytics – Detection of passenger flow based on smartphone locations as well as heat maps identifying queueing and performance improvement opportunities
  • Baggage reconciliation – Reliable Wi-Fi services for airlines to reconcile bags with passengers
  • Machine learning and facial recognition – to bolster security or develop Passenger Journey Mapping so gate staff can track late running passengers and send notifications via apps

"We're also a reseller of IT services to many of our airline customers, our baggage customers and our retailers. We started selling services five years ago and realised £600,000 in revenue. Today we do £4.5m," says Corcoran. "We now have optionality and flexibility to consume the technology in the way we want. And for the companies that we provide IT services to, we also extend that flexibility optionality."

The data to inform a 'smart airport'

"IoT will be an increasingly important element of the airport's future strategy," says Corcoran. "It will impact everything from optimised schedules to aircraft turnaround times. Every process that requires human involvement offers an opportunity to automate and innovate.

"Campus-wide IoT is going to be huge for us," Corcoran adds. "We're rolling out 2,000 beacons to help with digital wayfinding. I want to place sensors on everything in the airfield. I want to know where the steps are, what the refuelling trucks are doing, where each piece of baggage is, and I want to hook this data back to a single data lake. And then I want to view multiple data sets from a single pane of glass."

"Not all innovation needs to be 'sexy'," Corcoran concludes. "Sensors may make the emptying of waste bins more efficient, or create intelligent toilet cleaning schedules, or send accurate real-time environmental updates. We now have Aruba wall-to-wall to help us innovate at the edge. We're really excited about the future."

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