Casino upgrade proves a big winner

The deck was stacked in favor of training and support for an in-house installation crew.

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Upgrading critical systems is challenging under any circumstances, but in the Las Vegas entertainment industry, where slot machines are ringing and bright lights are flashing 24 hours a day, undertaking a major system overhaul can be a gamble. Add in a team of in-house electricians not intimately familiar with data-communications installations, and the potential for chaos rises exponentially.

But despite the odds, the Las Vegas Hilton Resort and Casino is pulling it off, training a team of installers, and upgrading their 4-million-square-foot facility from 4-wire Token Ring to Category 5 and 5e in a juggling act so effortless, it rivals Cirque de Soleil.

"It's really been an amazingly smooth transition," says Len Forrest, engineering systems and control specialist for the hotel and casino. "We've come a long way. Not only have we finished consistently ahead of schedule, but we have done three-fourths of the job on about two-thirds of the money they budgeted for us. And the network is really cleaned up from what it was before."

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Fiber connectors used in the Las Vegas Hilton upgrade are reusable, facilitating the learning curve of new optical-fiber installers.
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Part of the Park Place Corp. hotel network, the Las Vegas Hilton Resort had been limping along for some time on its existing Novell Token Ring installation. Explains Forrest, "We'd added on and added on over the years, and eventually just outgrew the infrastructure. It had gotten pretty large and clunky, and was beginning to run noticeably slower."

The hotel LAN, which is also linked to the worldwide network of Park Place Hotels, supports every major aspect of the hotel and casino's operations. The most vital centers of network operation are the business offices and point-of-sale areas—executive offices; convention sales and marketing; casino marketing; all stores, restaurants, coffee shops and bars; room service; and the employee dining area.

Rolling the dice?

The job must have looked daunting. Phase one alone included 150,000 square feet of cable from Superior Essex (www.superioressex.com), more than 20 crossconnects (closets), and 1,300 workstation drops. The scope of the project meant chief engineer Bill Beshears was faced with some critical decisions early on. Most importantly, could his team of six electricians handle the job of rewiring the facility themselves? Beshears knew it made financial sense to use in-house staff, but could they get the support and training needed to bring the job in on time and on budget? The team had pulled cable before, but that was about the extent of their data-communications knowledge.

Beshears, Len Forrest, and head of information systems (IS) Bob Morelos put their heads together. "We knew without communication between IS and engineering, the job wouldn't get done," Morelos says, "but we had a lot of faith in their abilities from the beginning." They worked out the exact parameters of the job, finalizing the CAD design and specifications and determining what they were willing to farm out and what they wanted to do themselves.

Their local distributor, Nedco Supply in Las Vegas, proved valuable as well. "When Bill first told us about the project, we were pretty excited," says Dave Phillips, Nedco data representative. "They were wondering how to begin getting their guys trained for voice and data."

Nedco was able to help out, explains Phillips, because "the job had already been specified as a NextLan job, with Leviton and Superior Essex. So, we just had to get Len's group trained as certified installers." The two vendors offer Leviton's Lifetime Product Warranty on certified installations of their NextLan system, and that certification is flexible enough to allow training for some in-house technicians, as well as contractors. "Leviton and Superior have got a really solid training and support program," says Phillips. "We knew Len's team would be in good hands."

Ed Day, district sales manager for Leviton's Voice and Data Division, and Pat Courtney, a Leviton fiber field-applications engineer, got the entire Hilton team quickly trained and certified. "The guys really enjoyed it," recalls Forrest. "And we've kept on learning as we've gone on. I was just telling the team they are getting to the point where they can take on anything." And, of course, Forrest acknowledges, good support is a part of that confidence.

Cashing in on learned skills

With the first round of training done, the crew was ready for the next step—the actual data changeout. The 150,000 feet of cable used in the project was a combination of Category 5 and 5e and optical fiber. Also included from Leviton were Category 5 and 5e QuickPort connectors, Thread-Lock ST and SC optical-fiber connectors, Category 5 and 5e copper patch panels, Universal 2-RU and low-profile 1-RU fiber patch panels, QuickPort and 106-style wallplates, and cable management equipment.

"The guys especially like the fiber terminating," recalls Forrest. "We had some questions at the beginning, because it was totally new to them, but they really liked the Thread-Lock connectors. They're mechanical and also reusable, so they've got a good learning curve for new installers." The team did need help one time, he remembers. "Nedco came right over, and brought Pat Courtney in. He helped us iron out what we were doing pretty quickly."

A hard 8 (hours)

To keep Hilton businesses running smoothly, the team decided to set up a flexible installation schedule. "We absolutely had to keep people up and working while we were changing over the system, which was a big challenge," Forrest explains. "So, we set up shifts from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. We got most of our work done in the early morning, and then we'd work in the less-populated areas as the day wore on."

Forrest adds, "We started with the executive offices. The bosses were really pleased. And then we moved on to accounting and convention sales and marketing. There were six areas in total for the first phase."

A few issues arose, says Beshears, but nothing that wasn't quickly taken care of. For instance, he recalled, there were some concerns about old wire and connectors from previous installations. "There was a lot of cleanup work," he recalls.

"Some of the old wire was hard to get out of the conduits," explains relief senior watch engineering John Pelissier. "But we cleared a lot of it up. Once we got the closets done and were caught up, we'd go back and pull out the old stuff. Over the years, they just kept adding on layers, without the time to go in and take out what was there. So, it's made a dramatic difference, being able to get in and clear out all that mess."

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The team of Bob Morelos from IS and Bill Beshears and Len Forrest from engineering cooperated and communicated to ensure success of the in-house installation project.
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Says Forrest, "Overall, the installation went really smoothly, for copper and fiber. In fact, the only real fiber trouble we had was some previously installed connectors that we needed to rework, and a lot of messes from previous installations that had to be cleared up."

Today, with the job nearly 75% completed, Forrest and Beshears are pleased with the progress. "The savings have been phenomenal," Forrest says. "You can't beat coming in early and under budget. We were all set with the point-of-sale network a week before the POS people got here."

With the Ethernet project well underway, the team has expanded its scope to include the casino floor, where they are wiring gaming tables and slot machines for fiber.

"It wasn't part of the original plan, but once they saw what the guys could do, they kept adding on projects," Forrest says.

Adds Pelissier, "It's pretty amazing when you compare the areas we haven't done to the new ones. The difference is dramatic, and it's a great feeling of accomplishment for the guys."

"We just tried to take a very simple approach to the whole project," notes Forrest. "If we were unfamiliar with a new product or technique, we'd train up the guys and be good to go. And the fact is, with the support we've gotten, and a really amazing team of guys, we haven't found anything yet that we haven't been able to handle."

Morelos is happy with the installation from the IS perspective as well. "We can go to engineering now for maintenance of wiring, which we couldn't do before. And we don't have to wait around for recertification. Engineering and IS are working together, and it's made things much easier for everyone."

All have been pleased with the level of support they have gotten from vendors Leviton, Superior Essex, and Nedco. "We'll definitely go with NextLan for future work," comments Forrest. "It's worked real well for us."

Word of the project's success is beginning to spread. Already, the Las Vegas Hilton has had a lot of visitors from other divisions and hotels in the Park Place group. "Everyone's been very, very impressed," says Forrest. "They've been calling up to ask how we got started."

Darcy Pratt is marcom manager for Leviton Voice & Data Division, and also a freelance writer. She can be reached at: dpratt@leviton.com


The practicality of in-house installation

What does it take to train an in-house team of electricians to install low-voltage cabling systems? Time, mainly, says Leviton field applications engineer Pat Courtney: "For experienced technicians, learning basic installation of copper and fiber cabling is fairly straightforward. In fact, many electricians have experience with low-voltage already."

In the case of the Las Vegas Hilton, says Courtney, it took only a few days to get the team started. First, the technicians attended Leviton's day-long Certified Cabling System (CCS) training class. This class is required for all certified Leviton installers, and qualified them for Leviton's lifetime warranty.

"The class covers copper and fiber installation practices, based on international industry standards," says Leviton's Ed Day. "The standard training is easy." For the Hilton, Leviton spent another day doing hands-on training with the specific products they were using for the job. Says Courtney, "We had the team terminate the first dozen or so connectors, and tested them. They just moved on from there."

Training installers, says Courtney, is simple. But does that mean that anyone can go to a CCS class and take on their own cabling projects? Probably not. "It's not uncommon for someone in a company to have some low-voltage experience," says Courtney. "And technicians can usually install according to direction and test to the parameters provided. But designing a system, troubleshooting an installation, and setting test protocols takes experience and skill. That usually comes with more extensive training, such as an RCDD [Registered Communications Distribution Designer]."

It's also not often feasible, Courtney explains, for companies to pull teams from day-to-day functions and retrain them for network rehauls. Many end-user companies find it makes more sense to rely on a contractor partner for design and installation of major projects, which leaves internal resources free for moves/adds/changes work or maintaining network infrastructure.

"In average companies," says Courtney, "it makes more sense to hire someone from outside. Yeah, it's possible to do the whole job on your own,but it takes a lot of time and training. If you are going to do it, it should make sense for the long run."—DP

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