When Eurostar doubled its number of passengers within two years, it turned to Integralis to help install new, future-proof technology
The quality of Eurostar's network services has improved significantly and there has been a considerable reduction in network downtime. It is now better equipped to isolate network redundancy while network throughput is much faster. Now, as Eurostar grows, it has a stable, supportive IT infrastructure.
Eurostar is the privately owned rail company whose core business is the operation of passenger services from London to Paris, Brussels and other destinations in continental Europe via the channel tunnel. Eurostar also operates a rapid parcel service across the English Channel.
More and more people are using Eurostar to travel to the continent. With passenger numbers increasing from 3 million two years ago to 6 million last year, ticket sales are also rising rapidly.
"The majority of Eurostar's revenue comes from passenger ticket sales," says Rod Fife, general management networks and operations at Eurostar UK. "For this reason, our sales, via ticket offices, travel agents, telephone and in the future the Internet, need to be supported with a resilient network infrastructure that can meet the growing demand."
In summer 1996, Eurostar decided to replace its old networks, which had developed over time with new technology, and create a robust infrastructure. Eurostar's primary objective was to make these networks operate as one to create a high performance, high availability solution.
Eurostar began by looking at replacing a wide area network (WAN) that linked its nine locations around the UK, including its head office at Waterloo, London, the call centre in Ashford, Kent, the main depots in Acton and Manchester, Waterloo International Terminal and Ashford International Station.
"Our network was too expensive and could not perform consistently to support Eurostar's future growth plans," Fife explains. "Network downtime and delays proved damaging to our bottom-line profits. This was because such a large proportion of our revenue stream relies on electronic ticket sales. In addition, increasing network bandwidth would give us greater capacity to sell tickets as and when demand grew."
Eurostar decided to employ external network expertise to help it choose the best infrastructure and suppliers that would provide it with the right solution. For this reason it turned to network integration and security specialist Integralis.
As Eurostar entered the ITT process for its replacement WAN, Integralis consultant Tim Eccott came on board to provide independent advice, consultancy and evaluation of responses to the tender. From these responses, Integralis helped to draw up a list of recommended suppliers.
"Integralis helped us evaluate what each network supplier offered. By applying its knowledge of network industry and technology standards its was able to help us establish the correct network design and suggest possible solutions," Fife says.
The new WAN was provided by Energis as a managed service and commissioned during the summer of 1997.
Eurostar's next step was to upgrade the local area networks (LANs) on each of its nine principal UK sites. Fife says, "The success of the WAN implementation highlighted the fact that LANs were also outdated and would require upgrading to support the company's future growth."
Based on its successful approach to the WAN implementation, Eurostar employed Integralis once more to produce costed LAN designs for the majority of its UK locations. As a result of its recommendations Eurostar invested in Lannet chassis and stackable hub equipment for three of its key sites.
Improving call centre productivity
One area where improved network resilience and high availability is particularly crucial for Eurostar is in its Ashford-based call centre. The call centre, which accounts for a large proportion of Eurostar ticket sales, currently employs 220 staff and is continually growing to handle increased business.
Eurostar's call centre is equipped with the Tribute ticketing and booking system. Within the next year Eurostar will replace the Tribute system with an in-house development system called Elgar designed to change the workflow and questioning process used in the call centre. This will increase productivity and create capacity for more ticket sales.
A further project for Integralis and Eurostar was to implement a secure firewall between the network and its Internet service provider. Integralis recommended and supplied Firewall-1 from CheckPoint Software Technologies, which was successfully deployed and provides necessary security that will, in the near future, allow customers to purchase travel tickets over the Internet. The firewall will protect Eurostar's network from unauthorised external access through this source.
Overall, Fife says that Eurostar has reaped many benefits from working with Integralis on its network design and planning. "Benefits are ongoing, but so far the quality of our network services has improved significantly, with a considerable reduction in network downtime."
"We are also better equipped to isolate network redundancy so that when part of the network goes down it does not affect everyone. Most importantly, network throughput is much faster due to increased capacity and updated equipment. This gives us the ability to grow as an organisation with a stable and supportive infrastructure."
Integralis' 10 years' experience of network design and consultancy provided very specific advantages to Eurostar. Its involvement in evaluation of the network technologies available on the market, and objective, industry-facing focus helped Eurostar find the right solution for its future growth. Fife concluded, "Integralis was and is a crucial aspect of the success of our networking projects."
( Integralis 1999
Compiled by Mike Burkitt