Extreme telecom makeover: Casino resort edition

Angled patch panels help save rack space for future expansion at Foxwoods.

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Angled patch panels help save rack space for future expansion at Foxwoods.

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Located on the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal reservation in Connecticut, Foxwoods Resort Casino boasts more than 340,000 square feet of gaming space in a complex that covers more than 4.7 million square feet
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It started as an active-equipment upgrade in one telecom room (TR) at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, but snowballed into the rewriting of specifications for active and passive hardware renovations for the entire campus.

“Cisco will soon be ending hardware and software support for the installed switch chassis, so we are in the process of refreshing our switching technology in the closets,” explains Angela Wheeler, information technology (IT) engineer for Foxwoods. “Once we looked at one of our closets, we realized that we could hardly see our switches and patch panels through the intertwined cable. We knew that this project would need to be taken to another level.”

“It wasn’t just a facelift to make it look better,” added Robert Walsh, RCDD, president of Network Installation Services of Wallingford, CT. “It then became a case of functionality.”

Located on the tribal reservation of the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, Foxwoods is a self-contained city within a city. It heralds itself as the largest and most successful resort casino in the world, with more than 340,000 square feet of gaming space in a complex that covers 4.7 million square feet. Accommodations at the resort offer 1,416 guest rooms in three separate hotels. In addition, there is a meetings and convention center; more than 25 restaurants offering gourmet and casual dining; a state-of-the-art Native American museum; the Fox Theatre, a 1,400-seat entertainment venue; more than 25 retail outlets; and gaming offering high-stakes bingo, the Ultimate Racebook, and a poker room. A new development project that recently broke ground will include a new 824-room hotel with spa, a 4,000-seat performing arts center, expanded meetings and convention space, additional gaming, and a new parking garage.

Not in our house

It was critical to standardize the cabling infrastructure so that, five years from now, the TRs will be organized to protect their network’s uptime. “We operate 24/7, so network downtime is not in our vernacular,” notes Wheeler.

Because Foxwoods did not want to gamble on the design and product selection that would set the standard for subsequent rebuilds, the IT department methodically researched the planning and installation procedures. The planning stage included reviewing the products and layout to maximize existing space.

To minimize cutover time, the old equipment’s removal and new equipment’s installation occurred simultaneously, meaning the old and new equipment would be in the TR at the same time. It was like a Rubik’s Cube puzzle in that during the cutover, equipment would have to be shifted around rather than removed from the TC.

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Before the new angled patch panels and cable-management features were installed, this telecom room at Foxwoods Resort Casino had patching fields in complete disarray.
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TR configurations at Foxwoods are categorized into three classifications, depending on the applications and service needs:

1.TRs that rarely need servicing or “touching” are those on every floor of the hotel. They are used to service guests with low-density applications, including wireless and Internet interconnection, which are non-transient.

2. The second classification includes the two demarcation rooms, or communications rooms, which house the main servers for the enterprise. These TRs are closely monitored because the entire backbone system is housed within them, but they rarely need touching other than to upgrade the active equipment.

3. The highest density of cabling and servicing is in the TRs that support the administration, offices, front-desk, and other casino-supported applications. Users are constantly moving and adding applications.

Planning the redesign

The TR that needed the new switches and upgraded termination equipment was in the high-density classification. It contained four racks that were packed with hardware, patch panels, and a clutter of patch cords. When Foxwoods’ IT staff realized they couldn’t pull out the old switches because the patching was in disarray, they looked at redesigning the TRs to become more organized and, hopefully, gain back some added space in the racks.

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After the installation of new equipment, including Mighty Mo 6 cable-management racks and Clarity angled patch panels, the differences in neatness and management are clearly noticeable.
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“We know that the closets will never get any bigger, and every time we eventually add more data and switching cable, we knew we’d be in trouble with space constraints,” states Wheeler. “In this industry, everything is lending itself to becoming standardized,” she continues. “We wanted to standardize the products to be installed in the closets to make it easier for us to maintain and to plan.”

After reviewing several vendors’ equipment, Foxwoods selected Ortronics/Legrand because of the unique design of its angled patch panels, the company’s vertical cable channeling, and the capacity of the Mighty Mo 6 cable-management racks.Each of the existing horizontal cable managers, positioned between the standard patch panels to keep the cable neat, occupied one entire rack unit. By eliminating those managers through the use of angled patch panels and adding the larger-capacity Mighty Mo 6 racks, Foxwoods believed it would regain real estate in the TR.

“The Ortronics Clarity angled patch panels double the rack capacity because you can use the entire rack for patch panels, rather than having to take out every other panel for horizontal cable management,” explains Carolyn Vencelau, Northeast region manager for Ortronics. “The angled patch panel is recessed, so when it is mounted, it does not protrude. Other angled patch panels protrude and, in some cases, interfere with the switch below; or, if they are installed in a cabinet, you can’t close the door.” Vencelau adds that other angled patch panels require a management software package because they do not have room for labels, while the 1U, 48-port Ortronics angled panel has built-in labeling.

Foxwoods also standardized on LC fiber connectors for the fiber backbone because of the connectors’ density, allowing more connections in a given space. Allowing more connections and active devices on the system will subsequently allow room for future applications as well as uplinks from each TR’s switching gear to the main demarc rooms.

The implementation challenge

“Even if we only upgraded the Cisco chassis, we still were looking at an overcrowded closet,” Wheeler states. “So, we were faced not only with system upgrades, but methodical planning for the installation of new equipment and supporting hardware to upgrade our network capabilities, and also preparing for future growth.”

“It’s all about real estate,” says Chris Demers of manufacturer’s rep MGN Associates (www.mgn-assoc.com). “Most IT people have to negotiate to get a usable-sized telecom room. And, as technology grows, it becomes more and more of a space issue when having to add more switches, and the corresponding connectivity cabling and termination equipment.”

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The Clarity 5E angled patch panels� allowance for cable management saves valuable rack space for future expansion.
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Because the old cabling had become a tangled mess, the first step was organizing it before bringing in the new equipment and switching over. Every existing cable was traced and documented. The existing labeling nomenclature was retained.

“I traced every cable and matched each cable connection to the active equipment, as well as to the patch panels and corresponding outlet locations,” says Lisa Francis, engineer with the Mashantucket Information Systems department at Foxwoods. “Then Susan Walsh and Kurt Reichenback from Network Installation Services produced a double set of labels-one for the existing cable and ports and then a duplicate set for the new cables and termination equipment.”

Notes Walsh, “There was a lot of head-scratching about how to bring in the new equipment and mesh it with the old, as it meant having double the equipment and racks in the small space at the same time.” Lars Larson, physical support product manager from Ortronics/Legrand, mapped out the actual cutover procedures, which entailed disconnecting the old equipment and patch cords and removing the old racks, then installing the new switches, cabling, and patch panels on the new racks simultaneously. The cutover from the old to the new would then take mere minutes at each port, creating minimal downtime and disruption.

Cut and paste

Once the equipment was onsite, the installation would take three weeks from installation to cutover. The preplanned steps were carefully implemented.

First was to bring in one of the four Mighty Mo 6 racks and slide it on the left-hand side of the old 19-inch rack. The old equipment and patch panels would slide into the new racks, one by one, and the old racks would be removed. “The old racks were not easy to remove, and because a lot of cables were interlaced, we had to cut some of the racks to remove them,” explains Francis. The next step was to remove all the horizontal managers for the cabling between the active equipment and patch panels. At that point, all the patch cords became looped, but rack space was freed up to install the patch panels.

Starting at the top of the first rack, the Ortronics Clarity 5E angled patch panel was installed on the shelf where the old horizontal cable manager would have been located. The horizontal station cable was neatly brought down and punched on the back. The new stackable Cisco switches were brought in and sat on crates until they could be put into place. Each patch cord between the active equipment and the new patch panel was neatly managed in the vertical side panels of the Mighty Mo 6 racks, and each port on the Clarity 5E patch panels was clearly labeled.

Network Installation Services created detailed documentation of every port on every patch panel before the changeover commenced. By following the documentation, each user was forewarned of the cutover, at which time service would briefly cease. “The installers and I worked from midnight to 6 a.m. during each day of the cutover process,” says Francis. “Because of the preplanning, each cable cutover ended up being less than 10 minutes of downtime, and most were 2 to 3 minutes, which is phenomenal considering the amount of traffic.”

When the job was completed, Foxwoods ended up with one almost-empty rack for future equipment and applications. The Mighty Mo 6 racks, with vertical management, and the high-density angled patch panels, doubled the cabling capacity.

Future considerations

“We know down the road that we will be adding more equipment and more connections,” states Wheeler. “The way the closet was configured, we had reached capacity. Now there is room for growth.”

Currently, four other smaller closets are arranged in the same configuration. The IT department will replace the active equipment and terminations in a similar format, thanks to the success and resulting standardization from this first makeover. Eventually, Foxwoods would like to upgrade all 200 TRs.

Additionally, Foxwoods is planning a network infrastructure for an adjacent complex under construction. This facility will include another hotel as well as an expanded media center for concerts and trade shows. Getting the necessary TR space is always a negotiated factor for the IT department; however, they are careful to adhere to both BICSI standards and OSHA requirements concerning placement of the equipment. When they do not have the regulated three feet of space from the wall to the racks in the TR, Foxwoods installs wall-mounted cabinets and cross-connects on the wall.

“Many people understand the technology aspect, but not the wiring part of the equation,” says Wheeler. “With this new and improved closet, it has become a cabling showcase. But the success was collaboration of the makeover team-from our internal IT group, to the installers and even the vendors-which has set a precedent for future cabling projects.”

CAROL EVERETT OLIVER, RCDD, is marketing analyst with Berk-Tek, a Nexans Company (www.berktek.com). ARLENE FRANCHINI is director of communications with Ortronics/Legrand (www.ortronics.com).

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