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Xbox Live
Black Box Helps Microsoft Xbox Go Live


What is Xbox Live?
Xbox is the latest videogame console produced by Microsoft. Xbox Live is the Microsoft online gaming service for Xbox users. Xbox Live will allow gamers to play multi-player Xbox games, simultaneously, with other players, in any country via a broadband Internet connection and the Microsoft Network.


Start of the Xbox Live Project - Xbox Project in Tukwila, USA
Black Box had previously completed a design and installation of racking and cable installations, for the showcase data center in Tukwila, on behalf of Microsoft. Nicky Pike, Programme Manager for Xbox Live Operations, had seen the data centre and was impressed with this high visibility Black Box installation, and subsequently asked Black Box to work with him.

Black Box were involved from design to installation on this major project, which involved building the network infrastructure at various data centres for the emerging Xbox Live. The project would not only be based in Seattle however, as the ultimate goal was to role the project out internationally as rapidly as possible.

Initially, the Black Box Team from San Jose took on the task of working with Mr. Pike to develop the cable plant design parameters and to define the installation specifications that would become the blueprint to be used at all data centers.
Work on the first two sites, (Seattle itself and nearby Tukwila) was undertaken concurrently. An intensive engineering programme was needed to ensure the extensive installations were completed within the tight Microsoft timeframe of one month. Satisfied with the success of the first two sites, arrangements were made to roll out the next location in Tokyo, using the Black Box structured wiring capability in these cities.

Xbox Project in Tokyo
The Tokyo installation was then deployed with essentially the same 'blue print', although changes had to be made to revise the rack and cabinet layout to suit the specific data centre.

Black Box's San José office provided the detailed specifications and floor plans for the 'local' team and dispatched a Black Box project manager and lead technician, to Tokyo, both of whom had been involved in the Seattle installations.
The materials list was specified and supplied by Black Box San José, with the Black Box Tokyo office liasing with them to ensure quantities and product codes were correct and that shipments times were met. The first challenge they faced was the World Cup Soccer tournament, which were being held in Japan at the same time as the installation was scheduled. It was anticipated that Tokyo would be especially busy with predictable travel chaos.
Despite this and the other problems, such as the differences in language, planning control regulations and the extreme time zone difference between the two continents, the Tokyo data centre was completed ahead of schedule, with the added benefits of support on warranty issues. Procedures were also put in place to ensure that any issues arising after the initial project was completed, would be handled as a matter of routine.


Xbox Project in London
Nicky Pike's next task was to visit the UK and Ireland to assess which location would be best suited to site the next data centre. With Black Box's extensive office network, neither location presented a problem, both locations offering a cohesive, efficient service and delivery. Microsoft made the decision to locate in London, using the same custom tailored layout and design with the same implementation approach, concluding in the same successful result.
The meeting to discuss the requirements for the first European installation were conducted at a coffee shop in London's Heathrow Airport. The Xbox Project Team, who had flown in from the States were on a very tight travel schedule and by meeting at the Airport this gave the maximum time for discussion, underlining the commitment that Black Box would put behind the project. They were met by Leslie Fernandes, MD of Black Box Network Services UK and Ireland and Derek Grant of Black Box Newbury.

Fernandes & Grant, were able to confirm that Black Box had the skills and resources to fulfil the needs of the Xbox Live project in the UK for Microsoft. It was agreed that the installation was to be handled by the Newbury office.

In a true show of team work, as with the Tokyo installation, Black Box, San José provided detailed specifications and floor plans together with a material list of the Black Box equipment which formed the design standard for Microsoft's Xbox sites.

They then dispatched the same project manager and lead technician to maintain absolute consistency in the installation. Black Box UK's office in Reading handled all the ordering and shipping arrangements with the US and supplied the additional technical support to perform the installation. This approach was seamless to the customer who had a global project engineer as a common point of contact for all sites.

Again this large installation was rolled out successfully on time.

Besides the condition of having to meet various standards for the cabling materials and services, Black Box were confronted with another important request from Xbox. The requirement being that they maintain a unified aesthetic style across all the data centres.

One of the reasons for Xbox Live choosing Black Box as its sole contractor for their data centres was the fact that, irrespective of where in the world the installation takes place, Black Box are able to supply exactly the same equipment at each site, installed in a uniform manner with the very highest quality and attention to detail.
As well as using the same material, they are able to ensure that all the cables have a common labelling standard, proving invaluable for system management and maintenance purposes. The ability of Black Box to project manage and coordinate this type of requirement is an important factor in securing both the order and Xbox Live's satisfaction.


The Xbox Specification
The sites chosen by Xbox Live and Microsoft are centres with good access to the main bearer services of the Telecom providers in each of the countries selected. Essentially they are huge rooms with raised floors and suspended ceilings, fully air conditioned with the added benefit of alternative power supply arrangements to ensure failsafe operation. The 'blue print' is adapted to suit the specific characteristics of each building and any national planning controls that affect the materials and design.

This is very much an on going project, as the system capacity will be increased in line with the traffic loading. In the UK, for example, the installation, despite its size, is capable of a fivefold expansion within the same premises. Microsoft and Xbox Live are global service providers and additional international data centres will be added to meet customer demand.


The Tokyo Site Example

Black Box Japan was reported in February 2002 that Tokyo was chosen as the site for the Xbox-project in Japan, but the project itself started in April. Planning began with the draft on the scope of works.

Site Requirements:
  • Installation of a ceiling channel for cable access between cabinets and racks
  • Installation of 552 CAT5e cables
  • Termination of all CAT5e cables on CAT5e patch panels at both ends
  • Labelling of all cables
  • All materials and installation to be compliant with the "Commercial Building Telecommunications Wiring Standard," EIA/TIA 568A as well as other related Technical Service Bulletins for Category 5e unshielded twisted pair cabling
  • Compilation of the system documentation to be presented to Xbox upon project completion

All the materials that were to be used were to be the same as the US data centres and as a result, all materials were to be shipped direct from the US.

As well as the cables and cable trays there were a combination of multiple 48 and 24 port patch panels along with vertical and horizontal wire management components installed in both standard 19" style enclosures and open frame racks.

The Xbox Project in Tokyo had a tight timeframe of three weeks to complete the installation.
However, due to the exceptional teamwork and professionalism of the Tokyo and San Jose teams, the main work was completed in 2 weeks or 10 actual working days.


Xbox Project Summary
Black Box's extensive worldwide footprint and resources were a key factor in Microsoft's selection of Black Box for this important rollout. "We picked the best company to be our partner in this huge undertaking," says Nicky Pike, Program Manager for Xbox Live Operations. "We're more than satisfied with the quality of work, service, and professionalism that the Black Box team has provided to Xbox in our efforts to establish multiple data sites."
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