üstra is technically ahead of many other transport companies with a fiber-optic network linking most stops to a central control center. Destination signs, bus displays, emergency call stations, ticket machines and video surveillance at platforms can thus be centrally controlled and monitored. üstra is also the network service provider working in association with the police to monitor traffic control cameras and traffic computers in the capital as well as the parking guidance system on the fairgrounds. The highway maintenance agency is also part of this association. The traffic management center, highway maintenance agency and üstra operate a common control center therefore, the requirement to staff these control centers with at least two employees around the clock became much easier and cheaper for all association members.
To monitor the entire technical network as well as its own office network from the central office, üstra implemented Ipswitch’s network management system WhatsUp Gold. This system was first installed when parts of the internal network were migrated from Avaya to Extreme switches. The transition from a homogeneous to a heterogeneous infrastructure at that time required an open management system, and an external service provider had recommended WhatsUp Gold, an easy-to-configure and scalable solution. Initially WhatsUp Gold only monitored the switches, but an upgrade to a newer version included the monitoring of servers and hard drives. Important SQL databases were also integrated since that time so that üstra not only monitors the services but can also read and process values from the databases with WhatsUp Gold. This is important for the light rail destination signs, for example, which are connected via RS 485 and confirm received signals through entries into an SQL database. In this manner, network management is also able to integrate comparatively old technologies.
The monitoring of the technical network was significantly expanded when üstra replaced all of the 325 ticket machines in the city area with new systems. An essential criteria in üstra’s request was that all hardware components of the new machines must have a MIB so they can be queried via SNMP. As part of this upgrade and with the assistance of the systems company P&W in Haltern am See, the WhatsUp Gold installation was then migrated to the current version. In total, each of the machines now has 25 monitor points, which the management system can use to provide comprehensive information. This includes the levels in the cash boxes, the output trays for change, the paper rolls for the ticket printing, the coin validator, and many other components.
At headquarters, all of the information collected by WhatsUp Gold is combined into reports that are utilized by far more agencies than just the IT team. “Before, cash boxes were exchanged on fixed routes and the ticket rolls were changed on rotation, regardless of whether or not they were empty”, states Ralf Krupp, who is responsible for üstra’s network management team, in describing the advantages of a central management system. “Today the responsible sales and technical managers receive a report each morning about the fill levels and technical status of all machines and can then use their personnel with much greater efficiency.” The control center and even the media department have access to the availability of the monitored systems. Comprehensive statistics are also created for üstra itself, as well as for the GVH (Greater Hannover Transport Association).
However, personnel is only one area where üstra is saving money. Now ticket rolls are better utilized, required maintenance measures are planned with more accuracy, and passengers who are caught dodging fares no longer have the excuse of defective machines. “We used to be more tolerant in such situations, since we often had defective machines due to vandalism”, says Ralf Kruppa. “The new ones are not only much better protected against vandalism but we also know precisely whether and why a machine has failed or has limited functions. In other words, these excuses no longer work.”
üstra is currently monitoring about 2,200 devices with well over 5,000 active monitors in its entire network. In the internal network, this involves 80-90 switches and about 50 servers together with 300-400 monitor points, the rest coming from the systems at the stops. Particularly important, in addition to the ticket machines, are the emergency call stations, which are operated via SIP and – on the last mile – ISDN. It’s less important for efficient planning than a rapid response: Alerts from WhatsUp Gold can immediately notify the responsible department via email and SMS in case of a failure.
A second installation of WhatsUp Gold is used as back-up so that monitoring can continue even if a system fails. The fixed maintenance window, during which the monitoring of the machines, emergency call stations and other systems may be unavailable for 30 to 45 minutes, is only required once a month. And it only concerns the monitoring - the functionality of the systems is not restricted in any way.
Ralf Krupp is very satisfied with WhatsUp Gold: “Above all, we like the openness towards internal expansion and the ability to monitor almost any device. We make very intensive use of the options for expansion and adaptation. The software is very reliable, and the migration to new versions is also going smoothly.”