Photo of Allure of the Seas cruise ship

Royal Caribbean Charts Technology Onboarding

10 Jul 2015 by Insight Editor

Creating a partnership like this is like anything new. You’ve got to work at it, particularly when you’re doing something that’s so radical … because the benefit on the backside of that relationship is very significant. And that’s exactly what we’ve experienced with Insight.”

— Bill Martin, Chief Information Officer, Royal Caribbean International

Purchasing, networking and integrating all of the IT systems in a skyscraper the size of the Empire State Building is a unique challenge in both scope and scale. The degree of difficulty increases considerably when the building is laid on its side and pushed out into the middle of the ocean — while still maintaining broadband connectivity with the mainland. That’s the IT challenge facing today’s cruise ships.

Since 2009, Royal Caribbean International has embarked on the most ambitious shipbuilding initiative the cruise industry has ever seen, which included launching the four largest cruise ships in existence today. To help ensure every aspect of technology aboard these massive vessels worked flawlessly from the first voyage onward, Royal Caribbean partnered with Insight.

“We had been working with Insight since before I took this role,” says Bill Martin, Royal Caribbean’s CIO since 2008. “But as we began planning to build Oasis of the Seas [the largest cruise ship in the world], we realized we needed to find a new way of handling all the technology on board.”

Due to the enormous capital expenses related to shipbuilding — $1 billion or more for the largest cruise ships — they need to start generating revenue as soon as possible. “We don’t have a lot of time to stand up all of the systems on the ship,” Martin explains, “so we end up building them in advance, then staging and deploying them on the ship in rapid-fire fashion.”

For Martin and his team, that usually means no more than 120 days to install, integrate and deploy all of the hardware infrastructure, devices and application systems on the ship.

Simulating the open sea on the shores of Lake Michigan

As Martin shared the shipbuilding plan with Jonna Lyons, Insight’s longtime account executive assigned to Royal Caribbean, she knew the cruise line would need a lot more room than its existing IT integration facility in Florida could offer. The line needed a location that could match Oasis of the Sea’s massive scale: Insight’s own 432,000-square-foot logistics, integration and repair center in the Chicago area.

Shortly after touring the integration center, Royal Caribbean named Insight as its advanced integration, deployment and professional services IT support partner for Oasis of the Seas and the four ships to follow: sister ship Allure of the Seas and the smaller Celebrity Eclipse, Celebrity Reflection and Celebrity Silhouette.

Insight immediately dedicated 5,000 square feet of the integration center floor solely to Royal Caribbean, setting aside a number of offices and establishing a Digital Signal 3 (DS3) connection with Royal Caribbean’s headquarters in Miami for its engineers to use while on-site.

Royal Caribbean christened the space its “Newbuild Configuration Center,” and for the next four years, the area handled the procurement, configuration, networking, testing and integration of the technology that would go aboard Oasis of the Seas and the four ships to follow.

“That space was set aside to mirror the entire ship build on land,” Lyons explains. “For example, the Newbuild Configuration Center relies exclusively on a satellite connection with Royal [Caribbean]’s headquarters during all system configuration and user acceptance testing to simulate connectivity at sea.”

The Newbuild Configuration Center was large enough to accommodate all the hardware that would end up on the ship, including:

  • 63 configuration benches for remote distribution point (wiring closet) and cabin switch configuration
  • 18 server cabinets and associated cabling
  • 70 kW APC® Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) for power protection and filtering

Just as importantly, the space offered enough elbow room for the Royal Caribbean employees, and Cisco and Microsoft engineers on-site, along with 25 to 50 specialized application vendors.

These vendors visited the Newbuild Configuration Center to install, integrate and test the systems that supported the ship’s onboard solutions, including the casino, electronic health records system, point-of-sale terminals, Voice over IP (VoIP) phones, reservations platform, streaming video services, and other core systems and functions.

When the vendors arrived on-site, Insight’s engineers helped them load their applications and run user acceptance testing to simulate ship operations and try to “break things,” Lyons says. That way, the systems were highly stable, connected and configured correctly before they were staged for installation.

Fast facts

  • World's largest cruise ship, along with her 2010 twin, Allure of the Seas
  • 1,187 feet long — equivalent to a 110-story building
  • 6,296 maximum passenger capacity
  • 2,706 staterooms
  • 2,394 crew members
  • 100,000+ tons displacement — equivalent to an aircraft carrier
  • 2,000+ televisions, 300+ interactive displays, 900 wireless access points, 1,000 internet phones, 365+ point-of-sale terminals

Preparing to come aboard

Once the ship’s systems had been integrated, tested and burned in for up to six months in the Newbuild Configuration Center, the next step was staging the technologies for a successful deployment.

“Even the packing for shipment became a science unto itself,” Lyons says. Thousands of hardware elements were crated and tagged in order of deployment, so everything was where it should be on the busy shipyard grounds, where time and space were at a premium.

“We map out exactly where everything is located and take pictures of it, so that when it gets to the shipyards in Finland, Germany or France, the install crews know exactly what’s coming out the shipping containers and when,” Lyons explains.

As the material moved aboard the ship, the roles reversed somewhat. “When we transition from the Insight facility onto the ship, we have Insight people who follow us aboard,” says Martin. “That allows us to have good cohesion from Chicago to the ship environment, ensuring the installation gets done smoothly in the brief window of opportunity that we have.”

Prior to taking on passengers for the first time, every Royal Caribbean cruise ship undergoes “sea trials” — essentially shakedown cruises to ensure everything works properly. Both Insight and Royal Caribbean IT staff are on board during these sea trials, working round-the-clock to ensure the ship’s systems are in perfect operating order as the ship makes its way stateside to board its first passengers.

Greater than the sum of its parts

“Honestly, I think the biggest challenge in partnering with Insight for the new ship builds was our own initial resistance to outsource the process,” Martin admits. “This was viewed as such a unique environment and deployment challenge that some engineers and senior folks here really questioned whether this was a good idea.”

With each successful ship launch, however, even Royal Caribbean’s doubters came to embrace the partnership. “With the first one we did, Oasis [of the Seas], Insight looked over our shoulders and documented everything that we were doing to build the infrastructure for the ship,” Martin recalls.

For the second ship, Celebrity Eclipse, Insight took the lead, and Royal Caribbean’s team double-checked the work. Beginning with the third ship onward, Martin says, “Insight pretty much runs with it, and we come up and test everything before we release it. I’ve got a lean team, and being able to rely on Insight to this degree benefits us a great deal.

“It’s been a great relationship with Insight,” he adds, “and we’ve built the Oasis class [referring to a common ship size or configuration], the Solstice class, and now the Quantum class, and they’ve all been done utilizing the Chicago facility and the Insight team.”

Upgrading the fleet

In addition to the new ship builds, Royal Caribbean has entrusted Insight with the tech refreshes of its existing fleet. These also take place under very different circumstances than the average data center modernization project.

While some smaller system upgrades can occur at sea, major tech refreshes take place while this ship is in dry dock. Taking a ship capable of holding several thousand passengers at a time out of service is an expensive proposition, so most ships are scheduled in dry dock for a week or two at most.

During that time, the entire ship is overhauled, including engine, electrical, and Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system maintenance — and even cosmetic updates like paint, carpet and furnishings. While this is happening, an army of 150 or more installers and engineers managed by Insight’s project manager on-site might replace every flat-panel display and cabin switch in the more than 2,500 staterooms on board.

The workers then integrate the updated technology with the ship’s existing infrastructure and test before the cruise ship goes back out to sea, all in a matter of a few — albeit 18-hour — days.

Conditions during these tech refreshes can be less than ideal. “The electricity and air conditioning on board is shut down periodically in dry dock,” Lyons explains, “so we can’t take environmentals for granted like we can in a typical data center. Many times, we’re using auxiliary light and power deep in the ship during these tech refreshes, working with other contractors on board to make sure that everything works as planned.”

The connected cruiser

Refresh projects like these are essential in an industry where customer expectations are changing as rapidly as technology itself. “Technology is now part and parcel of the cruising product,” says Martin. “We’ve subscribed to Gallup’s survey of the cruise industry for about two decades now, and for the first time this year, they’ve included a section on onboard technology. It matters more and more.”

Royal Caribbean believes its position as an early technology adopter is a differentiator for the cruise line in a crowded market, especially at a time when the population as a whole is increasingly demanding continuous connectivity.

The cruise line’s investment in satellite connections aboard every ship, including O3b Networks’ O3bMaritime on its larger ships, means customers have access to the same bandwidth they’re used to at home and work — a Royal Caribbean exclusive. That has also allowed the cruise line to attract a different type of customer than before.

“Event planners can truly consider a Royal Caribbean cruise vacation for their incentive travel because people can keep working while they’re gone,” says Martin. “If you’re going to do a corporate event, you can do it on board one of our ships, because for the first time, you can maintain the same level of connectivity throughout your cruise.”

Royal Caribbean recently hosted a group of 1,500 corporate event planners on board Quantum of the Seas, and “they could not believe the connectivity that they had while they were on board,” according to Martin.

Since Royal Caribbean partnered with Insight on new ship builds in 2009, the team has successfully configured and launched seven cruise ships total — including the four largest cruise ships in the world today.

During the course of these seven ship builds, Insight has procured, configured and deployed more than 22,300 devices for use on board, including:

  • 12,198 cabin switches
  • 195 remote distribution points, or “data closets”
  • 35 HP® Blade Center Chassis populated with more than 455 blade servers
  • 14 Cisco UCS® Chassis with more than 70 Cisco UCS blade servers
  • More than 1,225 virtual machines
  • 39 Apple® Xserve® servers
  • IBM® Storwize® v7000, NetApp® FAS2040 & DS4243 and HP P2000 & D2700 storage
  • 1,334 desktop PCs
  • 663 laptop PCs and Toughbook® notebooks
  • 3,507 Apple Mac® minis
  • 906 micro PCs
  • 900 point-of-sale displays
  • 80 kiosks
  • 3,030 Apple TV® media extenders
  • 78 rugged handheld tablets
  • 130 iPad® devices

Insight’s support has delivered significant process and business benefits for Royal Caribbean over the last six years as well, including:

  • A 95% improvement in cabin switch configuration time (up to 2,700 cabins per ship) due to improved processes
  • An up to 63% reduction in travel time and expenses between the ship and integration center as each build required less oversight

“I mentioned before that not everybody at Royal Caribbean believed that partnering with a third-party firm was a good idea at the outset,” Martin recalls. “We knew we were really onto something when we got to that second and third ship and our people were coming back from Chicago saying, ‘This is a way better way to do it.’ We’ve seen Insight‘s integration expertise deliver consistent benefits for us.”

“At Insight, especially in the integration center, documentation and process are as important as the air we breathe,” Lyons says. The entire facility is built to reproduce the exact same solution the exact same way, time after time. “So while Royal Caribbean didn’t need to meet ISO [International Organization for Standardization] standards like many of our customers, we knew that applying the same process excellence would be highly valuable in a project this massive.”

Martin agrees, adding, “It created a lot of really good rigor around what we do. It’s kind of a negative word but a very positive thing, and that is frankly something that Insight brought to the table. They had to do it in order to be able to have a repeatable process.”

Full speed ahead

Based on the success Royal Caribbean and Insight achieved together on the first five new ship builds, the contract was extended in October 2013 for four more ships. This latest contract builds on existing support agreements for ongoing technology refreshes of the existing fleet, as well as oversight and support for Royal Caribbean’s Network Operations Center responsible for handling all communications and connectivity with the fleet.

“Today, when my team gets up in the morning, they wake up as Royal Caribbean employees,” Lyons says. “Insight is really secondary. That’s how loyal they are. The extraordinary loyalty, talent, expertise and dedication they show each day has resulted in a lot of trust over the last six years.”

“I mean, really, from day one, we’ve had a terrific relationship with them,” Martin says. “They are always willing to go the extra mile to make it work. I have been accused of being a very difficult customer from time to time,” he laughs, “so the fact that they can put up with us — and me, in particular — is quite a testament.

To find out more about Royal Caribbean International, please visit royalcaribbean.com.

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