The interior of the former 1&1 Versatel Service Operation Center (SOC) may have looked like the bridge of Captain Kirk’s Starship Enterprise, but even Star Trek can become outdated. When the company’s SOC control room in Essen needed to be refurbished to accommodate for modern network infrastructure, operators experienced a boost in efficiency and productivity, thanks to Barco’s OpSpace operator workspace solution.
1&1 Versatel is a B2B provider for fiber gigabit connections and network-related services – providing its own network in more than 250 German cities. With about 51,000 km length of line, 1&1 Versatel operates one of the biggest and most powerful fiber networks in Germany. The company has more than 50,000 business customers in all industries and sizes.
From 1&1 Versatel’s SOC control room in Essen, the company is continuously monitoring the uptime of the transmission network throughout Germany. Operators scan for incidents and errors in the network proactively, and plan for curative actions and technical maintenance to keep downtime to a minimum.
“Our former center had the look and feel of Captain Kirk’s Starship Enterprise,” says Michael Reiners, Team Leader Network Incident Management at 1&1 Versatel. “Our operators had to look at no less than 20 screens and monitor about 40 management systems. This was already overwhelming and overstimulating during day-to-day activities, but even more challenging in times of an incident. Operators had to roll their chairs from one screen to another, often meters away, to find the root cause of an incident and to assess the impact. This was not very efficient, especially when you know that operators may have to consult with six different management systems while one network service is affected.”
1&1 Versatel’s control room is organized in two different teams. One team is monitoring the northern and western part of the German network, the second team is monitoring the southern and eastern part. Since every management system was connected to a dedicated workstation and screen, collaboration between the two teams, which were physically tens of meters away from each other, was difficult.
The SOC also made use of a KVM system to control up to 8 sources from one workspace with one keyboard and mouse. However, this system turned out to be inflexible. The displayed sources remained directly connected to the workspace and could not be displayed on another workspace.
Access any system from any workspace
In 2016, the SOC’s aging network infrastructure needed an upgrade and more management systems needed to be added to the workflow. This required 1&1 Versatel to look out for a new operator workspace solution.
“We were looking for a system where operators could directly access every management system from their own workplace,” says Michael Reiners. “After evaluating different possible suppliers, we ultimately chose Barco’s OpSpace operator workspace solution for our main SOC and Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Essen.”
In 2018, Barco installed OpSpace for 12 workspaces in the SOC and for 6 workspaces in the EOC. Every operator now uses OpSpace with two 32-inch WQHD and two 24-inch HD screens, where incident alarms are displayed. This is combined with a large video wall consisting of 55-inch OverView KVD5521B panels in an 8 by 2 matrix, where an overview of the complete transmission network is displayed. To manage all the network content efficiently, 1&1 Versatel also makes use of Barco’s TransForm N media management platform.
“The biggest difference with our former control room set-up is, that our operators can now easily access any management system in the network – be it in the north, south, east or west area,” says Wolfgang Faerber, Manager Network Services at 1&1 Versatel. “With OpSpace we can share any view of every system to any desk without having to roll chairs back and forth. Now everything can be done from one ergonomic workspace and as a result, the collaboration between our different teams has improved significantly.”
Barco’s OpSpace is allowing 1&1 Versatel to work more efficiently, which is not only better for operators, but also for 1&1 Versatel customers. Operators can now detect and manage incidents much faster and if necessary, they can send a technical team on site much quicker. According to Wolfgang Faerber, this easily amounts to a time gain of 30 minutes up to an hour.
The EOC is meant to guarantee continuity of operations in times of emergency, but it also has a very specific use as a backup center. The Operation Center building in Essen is located near a construction site where bombs from the Second World War are regularly excavated and cleared. During these defusing operations, nearby buildings, including the Operation Center, have to be evacuated, a process that easily takes two to five hours. The EOC is therefore the ideal fallback site. EOC operators can simply log in and immediately access their OpSpace workspaces. This ‘follow-me’ functionality allows them to access their systems independently of the location, which provides them maximum flexibility in organizing their operations.
In 2021, the EOC is also used for a more prosaic reason, namely to continue operations during a pandemic and to adhere to social distancing measures. “Thanks to Barco’s OpSpace and networked visualization platform, we can distribute our teams more evenly across the SOC and EOC sites, comply with social distancing guidelines, and still work together efficiently,” says Wolfgang Faerber.
In the former center, every management system was connected with a dedicated PC, close to the operator seat. This equipment generated a lot of noise and heat, which increased the need for powerful air-conditioning. Today, all workstations are virtualized and hosted in an external data center. This contributes to an operator-friendly environment, because we can drastically reduce unnecessary hardware. The virtualization has also made it easier for IT teams to manage the security of the control room equipment continuously and remotely.
1&1 Versatel is an ambitious company that is constantly expanding its network in Germany. With the advent of 5G in Germany in the near future, the company is preparing itself for new networks and infrastructure that will need to be monitored.
“OpSpace has made it easier for 1&1 Versatel to scale our systems when necessary,” says Wolfgang Faerber
. “Nobody knows exactly what the future will bring, but with OpSpace, we are ready to scale our control room operations and to accommodate for any network change with the least impact on our organization and workflow.”
1&1 Versatel is also happy to make use of Barco’s dedicated control room services, which help the company to maximize the uptime of their workspaces and video wall and to keep support and maintenance costs under control.