BAA preps network for Terminal 2 revamp

Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 2 is in the process of being rebuilt. Due to open in 2014, the £1 billion new building is expected to see 20 million passengers pass through its doors every year.

Unlike Terminal 5, which hosts just one airline, BA, Terminal 2 will house 18 separate airlines, all members of the Star Alliance group. So despite being two thirds the size, from a network connectivity perspective, therefore, Terminal 2 is significantly more complex.

"That balloons the level of interfaces and devices you need to install," explains Peter Kent, head of ICS at BAA. "It means there’s a greater level demand for WiFI, more demand for data and information management for the carriers and [retailers], and a greater level of security required."

This leads to some impressive specifications for the new terminal’s network. "We’ve got enough cabling to take us from London all the way to South America," Kent explains. "There will be up to 20,000 separate devices connected to the network, and we have around 136 different comms rooms."

Speccing out such a huge network infrastructure for a facility that will not even open for two years requires a degree of clairvoyance, and BAA takes a systematic approach to forecasting future requirements.

"We focus on data sets and technologies that are either known within the airport or that are on a technical roadmap, so we know which versions of various technology that we might move to," explains Kent. "This gives us the ability to define a technical architecture that allows to leave a window open for innovation while still enabling the builders on site to lay down the appropriate connectivity."

Back in February 2011, BAA appointed Fujitsu to be the design and implementation partner for Terminal 2’s network infrastructure. "Our building contractors have built the comms rooms and laid the cables," explains Kent. "Fujitsu ‘s role is to install and configure the switches, and then be in charge of patching the whole terminal and provisioning services across the network."

"The contract with Fujitsu is the key that unlocks the whole terminal," he adds. "It is the lynchpin between the physical build and the activation of the systems in the terminal."

Fujitsu was selected for the contract, expected to be worth around £20 million over four years, on three criteria. Firstly, they needed to demonstrate their technical understanding, and their relationships with suppliers such as Cisco and Arup. Secondly, the needed to prove their experience of working on construction sites.

"This is not a clean, office environment, it is a building site. [Potential suppliers] needed to understand how to work in that environment," says Kent.

The third criteria was an ability to work in a complicated matrix of suppliers and subcontractors, from builders to specialist technology providers. "They needed to demonstrate an ability to understand and manage across a wide range of stakeholders," he explains.

As the debacle following the launch of Terminal 5 demonstrated, high profile IT projects such as this are especially prone to negative publicity if they go wrong. BAA has therefore put various mechanisms in place to ensure that Fujitsu is properly motivated to ensure project success.

For example, it has agreed to an expected target cost (£20 million), with elements of the contract that are subject to cost variation. "Through this target cost mechanism, we have a joint incentive to make sure that risks are understood," says Kent.

There are also incentives to ensure that Fujitsu collaborates with other suppliers in an appropriate fashion.

Kent undertook a ‘comprehensive’ user requirements gathering process before initiating the project, and Fujitsu is contractually obliged to meet those requirements. "One of the challenges on complicated multi-supplier contracts such as this is that if any supplier goes to siloed and are not managing interfaces proactively, it sucks the client into a difficult place."

"So there are opportunities for contractor to demonstrate that they are displaying the right behaviours, they are working in the right way, and we can give them further cash incentives."

Still, Kent identifies fostering understanding and collaboration between building contractors and technology suppliers as one of the critical risk factors for the project.

"Installing IT systems as part of a major construction project is always tricky. We inevitably have an engagement and coordination challenge, especially with building contractors," he says. "Working with people who don’t understand at the first instance the technical level [of the network infrastructure] is our daily challenge."

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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