Wireless Inspiration to Rock

By Gerry Blackwell

March 24, 2004

Running a major rock music festival in New Zealand was made easier for all with a WLAN used by attendees and organizers alike.

Thanks to New Zealand director Peter Jackson's multi-Oscar-winning movie series, the tiny antipodean nation will now forever be associated with J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy The Lord of the Rings.

New Zealand, however, has another, and totally unexpected, cultural export: Christian rock music. The other land down under recently hosted Parachute 04, a veritable Woodstock of Christian music that drew 22,000 fans to the Mystery Creek Events Centre in Hamilton and featured over 100 bands.

Like the LOTR movies, the four-day Parachute 04 event was leading edge, technologically. Organizers lit up the entire 25 acre site as a giant cyber café using Wi-Fi and other networking gear from sponsors Cisco, Bluesocket and Logical CSI.

"Per capita it was the biggest Christian rock festival in the world," says Kurt Brandon, managing director of Kalooma Ltd., the Auckland, New Zealand network security firm that designed and integrated the Parachute 04 network. "Twenty-two thousand through the gate in a country with only five million people is pretty impressive."

Kalooma and the other sponsors got involved because Brandon's partner, Kalooma technical director Jeff Mason, moonlights as the drummer for the Parachute band, the festival's host.

While organizers and sponsors hyped the fact that the site was a giant cyber café and anybody who attended with a Wi-Fi-enabled laptop or PDA could use it, organizers actually needed the wireless network to light up administrative, registration and artist areas and supply backhaul for registration and other administrative applications.

"The main registration tents were almost a mile from the administrative blocks and the band and artist area was another mile and a bit away," Brandon explains. "It was easier to set up the site wirelessly than to cable. In fact, it would have been damn near impossible to run cable."

The network included 15 Cisco access points as well as repeaters positioned anywhere there was power. Kalooma used a "road case," a transportable, 440-pound network operations center (NOC) in a box that the company had developed for another client.

The case, which includes a Bluesocket server, Cisco switches, a full Active Directory server, firewalls and uninterruptible power supply (UPS), was used the week before the Parachute festival to wirelessly enable the New Zealand Open tennis tournament.

Some festival goers camped on the site, so there was a higher proportion of laptops in attendance than might otherwise have been the case at a music event. About 100 fans used the network over the four days -- and that without a lot of publicity or advertising. Another 100 or so administrative personnel also used it.

One of the innovative applications was streaming live video from the stage over the wireless network to private intranet sites so artists and administrative personnel could watch what was going on in their tents while working or preparing to go on. The video feeds were actually available to fans in attendance as well, but organizers didn't publicize the fact.

The functionality of the Bluesocket server was crucial to the project, Brandon says. It allowed network designers to set up multiple, and non-intersecting, network layers to keep administrative and public traffic completely separate and also manage bandwidth -- so festival goers didn't hog capacity needed for administrative applications.

"The flexibility [the Bluesocket technology] gives us is second to none," Brandon says.

Kalooma, a network security specialist, is the New Zealand distributor for Bluesocket. The company also distributes log analysis products from LogLogic and wireless products from AirMagnet.

The firm helps clients design and implement secure wired and wireless networks. It has about 15 significant wireless LAN installations under its belt, Brandon says. Wi-Fi customers include the local offices of major multinational food and real estate companies, and the largest private prep school in New Zealand, Saint Kentigern College.

The prep school application is an interesting one. It has been written up as a case study by Cisco, which supplied the Wi-Fi gear. Students at the very high-end school get a laptop as part of their tuition. The whole campus is lit up for Wi-Fi access.

The multinational restaurant company, which has 85 users in its Auckland office, opted for an all wireless facility -- wireless mobile telephones and Wi-Fi for data. "The only wires are for power," Brandon says.

The company justified the $500,000 cost for the Bluesocket, Logical CSI and other hardware and Kalooma's services to design a secure enterprise-class wireless network on the basis of costs saved on moves, adds and changes.

"They had to move one of their departments and figured it would have cost them $600 to $650 for each employee with a wired network and telephones," Brandon says. "We moved them all in about 10 minutes."

Brandon says that despite the innovative deployments it has worked on, New Zealand generally lags about a year behind the U.S. in deploying secure WLANs in the enterprise. Too many installations scrape by on network security that is far less robust than what Kalooma deploys, he says.

It's catching up now, though, and if New Zealand's recent record in the film industry is anything to go by, it will soon be leading the world.

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