The Queen Mary 2, the World's Largest Floating IT Shop

The Queen Mary 2, the World's Largest Floating IT Shop

In this long article, CIO Magazine looks at how IT supports the Queen Mary 2, the most technologically advanced vessel on the ocean. The magazine describes the challenges and the technical aspects of the design and the implementation of IT onboard. But it also makes a good weekend reading. Imagine a day on this floating city. “A guest embarking on the Queen Mary 2 — the world's newest, biggest and most expensive ocean liner — pulls out her smart card and hands it to a smiling security officer in a crisp, white uniform, who scans her through. After settling into her cabin, she flicks on the digital interactive TV and fires off a couple of e-mails. A few clicks away she browses the evening's dinner menu, then orders a bottle of pinot noir, which will be on her table when she arrives at the restaurant. Following some after-dinner entertainment in the theater, she heads back to her cabin, pipes in some Mozart from the TV system's vast music library, orders room service for breakfast and falls asleep.”

Here are some selected excepts from the CIO Magazine article.

The smart cards and interactive TVs are just a couple of examples of the vast IT capabilities built into the behemoth. The QM2 is a floating city, with integrated systems that make it arguably the most technologically advanced vessel on the ocean. But incorporating IT onto the ship was far from smooth sailing. One of the biggest challenges facing Cunard's IT department was its relative inexperience — the company hadn't built a ship in more than 30 years and didn't have a separate shipbuilding IT division as some cruise lines do.

These smart cards really deserve their names, as the following paragraph shows you.

Guests arriving for their trip can have their picture taken at either the port hotel (at a remote embarkation station), the terminal or the purser's office on board if they're running late. Their passports and credit cards are also scanned. That information is fed into the ship's property management system. The cards then become all-in-one devices that act as room keys, allow passengers to purchase goods (without having to carry cash), and to embark and disembark without having to carry their passports. The QM2 is the first cruise liner to offer such capabilities in a smart card, says Jeff Richman, director of business solutions and applications development for Cunard.

You're certainly curious to know what's powering this system: three data centers do the whole job.

Tucked away in separate, nondescript locations of the ship are three data centers. (These data centers back each other up should any of them fail.) Inside the main business operations center sits a rack of servers, the PBX communications system and the public announcement system (one of the ship's critical safety systems). Hosting those systems in one room represents a design change from traditional shipbuilding. “The big advantage is we could spend more money on the common infrastructure—the raised floor, better fire suppression, redundant power supply,” says Frank Finch, director of global technical services, giving Cunard's IT crew more bang for its buck.

The IT team also designed an original system to maintain the ship in perfect state.

Another system that Cunard provides aboard is dubbed AVO, for avoid verbal orders. AVO enables crew members to report issues on the ship without having to pick up a phone or physically track someone down. (Guests can also report any problems they have using their TVs.) For example, if a housekeeper notices a leaky faucet, he reports the problem using a PC. That information is automatically sent to the maintenance staff, where it's assigned to a worker. The worker can also see every other work order assigned to him, which ones must be done that day and so on. Once the faucet is fixed, the worker enters that information into the system. In addition to improving crew efficiency, AVO helps enrich the ship's customer service as well.

They also are using wireless technology.

The wireless access points on the vessel truly make the QM2 a 21st century vessel. All the restaurants and many of the bars use Wi-Fi to connect guest orders — entered at workstations by waitstaff — to access points on the ceilings, which are then routed via cables to the galleys. In the largest restaurant on board, chefs view the orders on two large plasma screens. And at some of the bars, waiters use handhelds to enter drink orders, which are then transmitted wirelessly to the bartenders.

After four years of hard work and laborious planning, the QM2 has been now sailing for five months without a single IT-related incident.

Fpr more information about the Queen Mary 2, you can look at these pages at Cunard Line or at Wikipedia.  [Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends]

Leave a comment