Published on 25-Feb-2011
Validated on 19 Nov 2012
"For every minute of every flight we can view performance of the network from both the air and from the ground so we can predict the next issues and get there ahead of time." - —Joe Yackee, Network Performance Engineer, Aircell
IBM Business Partner:
Aircell, a leading provider of inflight connectivity, is chartered with enabling communications for customers under exceptionally demanding circumstances—on an airplane traveling at an altitude of 35,000 feet at speeds of up to 500 miles per hour.
Provide in-flight Internet access; but maintaining service reliability was challenging with silo-based management.
Aircell engaged IBM and IBM Premier Business Partner generationE to implement an Integrated Service Management solution that enables administrators to view end-to-end performance of the entire network, both cellular and terrestrial, in real time and in business context via a network topology map unlike any other.
Ability to support 50x growth in first year; 50 percent reduction in mean time to repair; ability to spot service-affecting problems before they occur and rapidly identify the root cause of issues when they do occur
How can organizations derive the greatest business value from their complex technological infrastructures? For many companies, the answer lies in shifting their focus from technology to service levels, particularly as seen from users’ perspectives. By delivering services that closely align to customer needs and interests, and continually assuring that target performance levels are met, many companies are achieving business outcomes that would otherwise not be possible.
Consider Aircell, a leading provider of inflight connectivity. The company is chartered with enabling communications for customers under exceptionally demanding circumstances—on an airplane traveling at an altitude of 35,000 feet at speeds of up to 500 miles per hour.
Founded in 1991, Aircell originally focused on satellite based telephone communications on planes. The company has experienced considerable success in this arena, winning more than 30 patents and developing solutions deployed in more than 6,000 airborne installations.
As interest surged for anywhere, anytime Internet access, Aircell responded with its Gogo® Inflight Internet service that turns commercial airplanes into Wi-Fi hotspots. Gogo is currently available on all AirTran Airways and Virgin America flights and on select Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, US Airways and United Airlines flights. With Gogo service, passengers can surf the web, check email, instant message and access corporate virtual private networks from their laptops, smart phones and PDAs. Passengers can select to pay for service via a per-flight, daily, monthly or yearly subscription. Today, Gogo is available on over 1,000 commercial aircraft on more than 3,500 daily flights in the continental United States.
“With our Gogo Inflight Internet service, we’ve found a way to make air travel go faster for passengers,” said Gary Sahagun, Aircell’s Network Performance Manager. “But to do this we need to make sure our network performs. The better the performance and throughput, the more passengers can access the network and the happier they are with the service.”
Technical intricacies led to extraordinary project requirements
Delivering complex, data-based services on a moving airplane creates a unique set of challenges. As airplanes move rapidly from departure to destination, they continually change radio access towers to provide the best connection. In delivering its data service, Aircell had managed the underlying technologies in three logical groups: the patented broadband equipment on the planes, a national network of ground-based cell towers, and the Aircell data center, with its servers, routers and the base station controller.
However, leveraging this infrastructure to deliver full high-speed Internet access required that the company move from a silo-based approach that focused on each of these groups separately to an Integrated Service Management model in which administrators could view real-time, end-to-end performance of the entire network.
IBM and generationE provide an effective combination
Aircell had set a goal of completing this project within an 18-month timeframe. Any delays could affect the company’s success in this new market. Such an accelerated schedule meant that Aircell had to select carefully, choosing best-in-class technologies and technology partners with proven expertise and deep knowledge of the wireless industry.
After considering HP and others, Aircell turned to IBM and IBM Premier Business Partner generationE Technologies to implement IBM Integrated Service Management solutions for service quality management. These solutions help Aircell to ensure a high-quality customer experience by providing the necessary visibility, control and automation for delivering enhanced services.
IBM and generationE integrated IBM® Tivoli® Netcool® software with a custom-built Google Earth application to create a network topology map unlike any other. This map delivers a three-dimensional view of the overall Aircell network from the ground, air and across the nation with event and performance data delivered in business context to give it real-world meaning. On the map, aircraft icons change color from green to yellow when minor issues arise, and to red when critical problems occur. As the status changes, Network Operations Center (NOC) staff can simply click on the icon to view the latitude, longitude, altitude and flight number for the aircraft along with event information. Because the solution automatically collects and correlates technical data, administrators can quickly isolate the root cause of problems to minimize the business impact. In cases when network equipment on the planes require repair, Aircell can dispatch technicians to a plane’s destination so that once the plane lands they can fix the problem. This has been critical in instances in which the turnaround time between a plane’s arrival and departure is less than an hour.
“Other vendors couldn’t figure out a way to track the aircraft in graphical format,” said Mike Moderski, Aircell’s Network Operations Center Manager. “When we presented the idea to IBM and generationE, they created a solution and have gone the extra mile to help us achieve our goals.”
A 50 percent reduction in mean time to repair
While customers perceive their experience as that of a traditional Wi-Fi hotspot, a far more complex situation occurs behind the scenes. IBM Tivoli Netcool/OMNIbus continually draws network event data from the company’s integrated network environments in real time, and then automatically filters and analyzes faults to eliminate event storms. IBM Tivoli Network Manager automatically “polls” network equipment to identify in real time any errors, such as an out of memory condition on a router. IBM Tivoli Composite Application Manager for Transactions enables staff to run synthetic transactions—such as the purchase process—to identify problems from the user perspective. And IBM Tivoli Monitoring monitors more than 90 percent of the company’s network servers.
IBM Tivoli Netcool/Impact software then correlates this data and feeds it into the topology map to deliver a comprehensive, business-centric perspective on service quality and the business impact of problems. Through this integrated view, Aircell can take swift, efficient and informed action to address problems on a prioritized basis.
“MTTR [mean time to repair] is reduced by about 50 percent because we can arm our vendors with event data and metrics they need to isolate the issue,” commented Moderski. “We also save time because the solution proactively alerts us of any degradation before it results in an outage. For example, with IBM Tivoli Network Manager, we don’t have to wait for an event to transpire or take time to log into a piece of equipment to see what its status is.”
Real-time insight drives growth
At the same time, the IBM Tivoli Netcool Performance Manager for Wireless application collects and processes thousands of performance-based metrics—such as packet air rate, bytes transmitted and received, data rate and number of users—from the Aircell Broadband System located on each plane along with data from each of Aircell’s hundreds of cell towers across the country to help operations staff view trends and identify emerging problems. For example, in one instance, administrators found that transmission rates at one cell tower slowed as more planes that flew in the area adopted the Gogo Wi-Fi service. Using this information, operations staff was able to adjust software parameters on the transmission equipment to accommodate the increased demand—before any passenger service was affected.
“For every minute of every flight we can view performance of the network from both the air and from the ground so we can predict the next issues and get there ahead of time,” said Joe Yackee, Aircell’s Network Performance Engineer.
Moving forward the company expects to leverage network usage information, such as the percentage of passengers logging in each flight and the types of devices used, to tailor its services and improve the passenger experience.
“With hundreds of thousands of data points a day, there was no way we could have managed the network without Tivoli Netcool software,” said Sahagun.
For Aircell, this ability to understand service delivery at every level from its passengers’ perspective rather than a technology perspective has been key to its enormous success. Recent surveys have shown that more than 90 percent of respondents were satisfied with their experience using Gogo Inflight Internet service. More than 60 percent of the people who log onto Gogo each day are repeat users, and that figure is climbing daily.
“We achieved a 50-fold increase in service usage in the first year,” said Moderski. “With Tivoli software we can keep up with this rapid expansion and ensure customer satisfaction without having to substantially increase our operations staff.”
For more information
To learn more about IBM Tivoli software, please contact your IBM sales representative or IBM Business Partner, or visit the following website: ibm.com/tivoli
You can get even more out of Tivoli software by participating in independently run Tivoli User Groups around the world. Learn about opportunities near you at: www.tivoli-ug.org
For more information about Aircell, visit: www.aircell.com
For more information about generationE Technologies, visit: www.generationetech.com
Products and services used
IBM products and services that were used in this case study.
Tivoli Composite Application Manager for IMS Transactions, Tivoli Network Manager Entry Edition, Tivoli Netcool Performance Manager for Wireless, Tivoli Netcool/Impact, Tivoli Monitoring, Tivoli Netcool/OMNIbus
STG Lab Services: Other
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