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Networks vital in the running of modern railways

Networks vital in the running of modern railways

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Complex urban railway systems

Data networks play a vital role in the running of modern urban railway systems, supporting everything from passenger information systems to signalling across a complex mix of services. The situation at Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat Valenciana (FGV), a public rail provider in the Valencia region of Spain, is no exception.

Since forming in 1986, FGV has carried out an ambitious program of modernisation, adding a metro network and tram lines to existing overland train services. This physical infrastructure requires constant surveillance, maintenance, and management – a task that’s assisted greatly by applications and media run across the data network that connects central administration offices, stations, and other facilities. If passenger services are to run smoothly and efficiently, the performance and functionality of this network is critical.

Old network holds back new services

As part of an ongoing modernisation program, FGV decided to completely renew its data network in 2009. The company knew its existing network was unable to support new video-based services and there were also problems with bandwidth capacity. In addition, FGV wanted to find ways of creating greater reliability and redundancy within the network.

Julia Iserte, Head of Communications for FGV, explains: ‘We found the old network was holding us back whenever we wanted to introduce a new application or service, both because of available bandwidth and the standards the network supported. We also had a pressing need to improve availability. If a single system failed, it often meant the whole network went down.’

FGV instructed a consultancy to find a solution, initiating a detailed two-year selection process that involved the assessment of several different technologies and a year of rigorous product testing. ‘We had to make sure we got this process right,’ Iserte continues.


Modern MPLS network

After completing the selection process, FGV chose Dimension Data, Europe’s leading experts in communications services, to implement a new Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) network based on equipment from Alcatel-Lucent. The solution comprises service routers, access switches, and the Alcatel-Lucent 5620Service-Aware Manager, which provides simplified, end-to-management across the new network.

‘We were very impressed with the solution,’ says Iserte. ‘It proved to be highly reliable during testing and, in terms of functionality and standards, provided a perfect match for our requirements.’

Crucially, Iserte was impressed by our recommendations in the bid process. ‘They proposed the best technical solution that was appropriate to our needs,’ she says. ‘In addition, they were able to demonstrate they have locally based people with extensive experience in implementing and supporting the kind of network we were looking for.’ We worked closely with FGV in designing the solution, establishing the physical and logical topology of the network, and defining the various levels of service to ensure consistent availability and quality of service.

Simpler management

FGV’s new network consists of two core service routers at its central office, a further six distribution nodes and over 70 access switches spread across the edge of the network.

The Alcatel-Lucent 5620 SAM adds management capability, making it simple to provision new services, prioritise traffic, and trouble shoot issues as they occur, via a series of management procedures and alarms that were developed with our help. Because the network is MPLS-based it’s also inherently redundant, making it possible for FGV to isolate services and prevent a single point of failure from crashing the network. The system monitors all building systems and proactively alerts management of negative trends, faults or incidents that may impact human comfort, safety or operational inefficiencies.


New video-based services

In terms of new services, Iserte and her team have already been able to roll out new video services, including surveillance systems and a new passenger information service in stations.

Remarkably, the introduction of these services has not had a negative impact on bandwidth, in fact, quite the opposite. ‘The Alcatel-Lucent technology enables us to make much more efficient use of the network capacity, even when we’re deploying bandwidth-hungry applications like video’, says Iserte. ‘So far, we’ve reduced our use of the bandwidth available on our fibre-optic cables from 80–90 percent to around 2 percent.’

Iserte has been able to achieve some impressive figures in terms of network reliability. ‘Because of the improved redundancy we have, we now achieve over 99 percent availability. This has an impact on the service we provide to our customers, ensuring minimal disruption to services, information and ticketing.’

Ongoing support and management

To cover any risks, FGV went for our maintenance and support contract, ensuring the new network is supported by locally-based experts, highly experienced in the technical nuances of modern, advanced networks that support multimedia services. Ongoing management of the network will be handled by FGV, from the Alcatel-Lucent 5620 SAM. ‘We rely on this management software to proactively monitor issues and solve them as they occur,’ says Iserte.

‘The 5620 SAM is suited for managing large-scale networks such as ours. It was a key part of our decision to choose our solution.’

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