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On Location at McCarran International Airport: Sneak Peek

Fortunately, I made it--the plane was late. Then I found out that "Alert Condition Orange" had been declared that day. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was on high alert, and folks who were listening were supposed to expect serious security checkpoint delays. Clearly, there was no way IT could have cut down that line delay.

IT at McCarran is great. It's very business-centric and very customer-oriented. The airport has a centralized flight information display (FID) system, which shows arrival and departure times for all airlines in the airport. It also has a common use terminal emulation (CUTE) system that allows the IT staff to reconfigure gates and check-in counters pretty painlessly, no matter which airline needs them. This allows airlines to spread out when the lines get long.

Systems Manager, Dave Bourgon
click to enlarge

In general, McCarran has one of the most excited--and dedicated--IT groups that I've seen in a while. Mental Note: Tell Senior Network Analyst Gerard Hughes or FIDS Systems Manager Dave Bourgon (the folks responsible for FIDs) that it might be a good idea to display the Alert Condition and its consequences. As an example, for Alert Condition Orange, FIDs throughout the airport could read: Serious delays at the security checkpoints, so hurry up and don't stop for that extra double latte!"

And that's just it: These guys have a flexible enough system that they can easily post such a warning. And I bet they will next time. As they pointed out during our conversations, they have no control over the TSA, but they do have control over all the information systems throughout the airport, and posting such a warning (maybe even an automated line-delay counter?) is probably pretty trivial. They are well positioned to be nimble about responding to such requests because they've built out the infrastructure.

A network diagram, in action

click to enlarge

What's interesting is that even though McCarran's IT staff is doing some really geeky stuff, they're just as excited about the bizware as they are about the geekware. They've got Kalatel video recorders collecting camera feeds from 30-plus cameras at each checkpoint (there are four checkpoints, one at each gate concourse) and they keep 30 days of video around. They're ripping out some (shudder) FDDI and replacing it with Gigabit Ethernet. And they're using some really interesting emulation (virtual machine?) technology that allows them to run all sorts of operating systems (each airline, it might come as no surprise, uses something different) on one "common use" terminal that all airlines can use.

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