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Raceway's secure wireless network is living life in the fast lane

Laguna Seca raceway unwired the outdoors when it extended its wireless network outside, where it would handle the network needs of thousands of racers, TV crews, and fans in a secure, reliable environment.

Wires weren't an option for Frank Basso – digging up the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca track and its surrounding hillside to lay cable was a logistical and environmental no-no.

Paying the hefty $250,000 penalty per network failure wasn't an option either, yet speedy race vehicles circling the track were causing massive Wi-Fi interference that constantly interrupted the network. A fine-worthy disaster!

And manually policing for rogue access points – erected by maverick race teams for the sole purpose of snooping out their competitors' secret stats – well, that was getting just plain tedious.

Sure, Basso's job – assistant director, data communications for a major U.S. racetrack – is nothing short of unique. Still, he faces challenges that parallel those of a typical enterprise management professional: performance, reliability and security. It's just that Basso's challenge is doing it in the great outdoors and revolves around the macho and somewhat unruly world of race cars and race motorcycles.

"Everything we do, all the action, is outside. Race teams, clients roaming around, it's all outdoors," Basso said. "Most racetracks don't try to do this. Most provide network services inside guest suites or maybe in hot zones. We want to provide things like in-car camera feeds and relay stats about the cars."

Informally known as Laguna Seca, the raceway is a 2.2-mile road course located near Monterey, Calif. Laguna Seca hosts sports car and vintage races, motorcycle races, and races by SCCA (Sports Car Club of America), which sanctions amateur and professional auto sports events throughout the United States and has done so for more than 50 years. The organization runs motorcycle club racing and a racing school, and it hosts five major events a year that draw in more than 150,000 fans per day. All of that fast-paced commotion adds up to a lot of demand for network reliability and security – whether it's from the TV stations covering the event, the race teams communicating with sponsors, or the fans who remain glued to their BlackBerry devices during the event.

"Our main events are coordinated with state and county," Basso said. "It's a big hassle when it comes to providing infrastructure. MotoGP, the sanctioning body, can fine us up to $250K for network failure."

To achieve its goal of offering staff -- as well as the teams and fans that attend races -- reliable Internet access and full mobility throughout its facility, Laguna Seca was in need of an infrastructure to service its largest events. The raceway needed a data and wireless infrastructure to support track operations, ISP data services, a wireless platform (the raceway can't run cables everywhere because of environmental and other concerns), durable components for a harsh environment, and high reliability and redundancy.

In response, Laguna Seca has deployed at least 25 indoor access points (APs), but for its 18 outdoor APs it had to choose devices made especially to withstand rugged weather conditions and offer security, given their unmanned locations. The raceway deployed Trapeze Networks MP-620, a dual radio 802.11a and 802.11b/g AP that complements the raceway's existing indoor Trapeze APs.

The devices offer optional parallel, redundant link configurations to ensure resiliency in the event of a wireless link failure. When higher performance is needed, wireless links can be bonded to achieve aggregate speeds in excess of 100 Mbps. This was important because vehicle speeds, which reach 150 mph at times, affect the Wi-Fi connection, causing network interference.

The MP-620 also has a weatherized package suitable for extreme outdoor environments and includes a lightning arrestor.

"The first time we tried this, we had a service provider come in. It worked 15% of the time," Basso said. "The cars use the same Wi-Fi, so every time a car would go by, they fall off the network." The solution, Basso said, was to do away with large sector hot zones. Rather, he deployed a lot of small sectors outdoors, Pico Cell coverage, each with an area no bigger than 300 to 400 feet. The setup was non-meshed to prevent interference while providing a higher area of coverage.

"The previous setup couldn't work fast enough for the cars that go by at 150 mph," he said.

Basso also likes the Trapeze equipment for its ability to sniff out hidden nodes and rogue APs at the track, a technique used for tapping into telemetry being transmitted about vehicles on the track. Trapeze APs provide a multi-tenant system, rogue detection, and active countermeasures, all features used for securing data for the race teams.

"Telemetry is data about the car -- how much power it's putting out, when it's going to pit and get fuel. Between events, the teams download data from the entire race. Somebody could steal that data and then use it to their advantage," Basso said. "It's a big deal if it's a winning car and a competitor gets the winning combination by snooping."

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