Ski Resort Keeps Network Performance from Sliding

— June 02, 2013

The 1960 Winter Olympics, held in California’s Squaw Valley, was the first nationally televised Olympics. It was the first Olympics to have a Village for its participating athletes, and the first to use computers for result tallies. Today, the site is host to lodging, restaurants and retail stores and wireless is key to keeping it all connected. (Photo by Chris Beck)

Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, LLC, operates the 3,600 acre Squaw Valley and 2,400 acre Alpine Meadows ski resort near Lake Tahoe. The company, which operates its own data center on site, employs 120 full-time employees, with additional staff during peak times.

In addition to wired connections in hotel rooms, and wireless connectivity in the restaurants, lodges and lounges, the resort provides wireless internet so crowds queuing up for the ski lifts can have smartphone connectivity in an area where cell phone coverage is spotty.

Squaw Valley’s remote location limits connectivity to the outside world, but its local 1Gb backbone offers sufficient bandwidth within the village for employee and guest traffic. Although events are held throughout the year, network traffic is relatively low except during snow seasons - that’s when the network needs to support not only seasonal staff but more than 15,000 guests a day.

Initial Problem
Squaw Valley’s IT department lacked the traffic management tools to peer deep into the network to find who was using the most bandwidth, and manage the process before it all slowed down. When internet connection overload occurred, it would result in unacceptable levels, especially for critical traffic such as point of sale transactions.

“We had no visibility into the network traffic at all,” said Steffan Vigano, IT Infrastructure Manager, Squaw Valley. “When we had any saturation, spikes or latency, there was no way to see what was going on or who was consuming the bandwidth.”

Solutions
Squaw Valley chose Plixer International, Inc., a NetFlow, IPFIX and sFlow solution provider, and purchased a Scrutinizer license. The software was set to monitor traffic on switches and the ASA to augment an install of a Solar Winds Orion network monitoring suite. A customized dashboard includes a map of the network showing real-time status and lists of the top conversations and network interfaces.

“With Scrutinizer, I could see when a link was saturated with traffic that was not business related,” Vigano said. “Then I could give the employee the choice of moderating their behavior or I could systematically slow or shut the traffic down to keep the business links open.”

On the Right Track
With Scrutinizer in place and configured, Vigano can now quickly identify which links are being overloaded and the source of the traffic: “It is a very powerful tool right out of the box,” he said. “I can spot rogue machines that are pumping out too many packets and see whether it’s a misconfiguration of the machine itself, or an abuse of privileges by the user.”

Vigano plans to setup additional features over the summer to be fully prepared for the flood of visitors this coming winter. “With this solution in place we are no longer in a firefighting mode when winter hits and 15,000 people access our network on daily basis,” he concluded.

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