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Monday, August 18, 2008, 08:00 am PT (11:00 am ET)

Apple Enterprise sending thousands of Macs into hotels, cruise ships


Not just a pretty face

Beyond the rich interface, Macs also provide a hotel-friendly hardware sophistication that PCs or set top boxes typically don't. "Stylistically, the guest facing hardware has to be beautiful," Walker said. "The iMac is a great example of something that just looks wonderful in a room. It immediately elevates the opinion a guest might have of a room when they see that piece of art sitting on the desk."

On the IT side, it's also important that equipment is up and running for the guest and easy to maintain. "The beautiful thing about the Mini," Walker noted, "is that it is interchangeable. It can be used to drive digital signage in the lobby. It can drive interactive touch points in other places, or it can drive the in-room experience on the large format television. If something goes wrong or you need to replace it, the same box goes into each of those locations, making it very easy to administrate from an IT perspective."

The Xserve side

On the server side, Nanonation developed CommandPoint as a flexible, expandable server management tool for Mac OS X Server. CommandPoint handles user interaction communicated between the server and guests' client Macs running the Nanopoint software. It also manages kiosks and digital signage systems, and serves as a central tool for uploading content, scheduling playlists, creating layout templates, and monitoring the real-time health of each player on the network.

Other Mac OS X Server Xserves in a typical hotel installation run AJA video injest cards to capture content from satellite feeds. QuickTime Streaming Server and Wirecast are used to composite video streams together and deliver it to guests' Macs over the network. A single Xserve can deliver HD video on demand to 200 users.

Additional Xserves are used as admin servers to handle network services, as well as file sharing and Xsan metadata. The servers are connected via a Fibre Channel switch to a Promise RAID unit. Mac mini and iMac client machines are linked up via high speed Ethernet.

Cruise control

In addition to in-room entertainment, Macs are also being put to work to deliver public area interaction. Digital interaction systems were the first application of Macs on board Royal Caribbean's cruise ships. Two 65" touch screens installed in the ships' spa and fitness center were designed to provide interactive guest services narrated by a live action personal trainer (below top) and a spa specialist (below bottom), filmed in HD and composited into the interactive menus.

Macs in Hospitality


Macs in Hospitality


Other Mac driven display systems on the ships offer to provide wayfinding services (below) to help guests find points of interest on the gigantic ships or obtain information on shore excursions or other guest services. Additional systems are installed in the ships' broadcast center and IT data center.

Macs in Hospitality


Tools for large Mac deployments

Royal Caribbean's vast Mac installations have to interact with existing IT system and protocols. The ships' networks use Multi Protocol Label Switching to enable class of service (CoS) tagging for prioritization of specific types of network traffic. That traffic management helps to push out thousands of concurrent multicast and video on demand streams.

The network multicasts both video streams and ASR (Apple Software Restore) remote imaging, allowing admins to wipe and reinstall a clean, 3.5 GB software image on a thousand Macs in five minutes. The ships' Macs can also be remotely configured via Unix commands, making it easy to roll out software updates or perform housekeeping operations.

iPhone for the other enterprise

While the iPhone has been getting a lot of attention in the offices of Fortune 500 companies, the hospitality industry is also interested in the iPhone and iPod touch to deliver a handheld experience that integrates with the personalized presentation and guest services features already being supplied to in-room desktop Macs.

Apple demonstrated the potential for wireless retail ordering systems in its Starbucks integration with the WiFi iTunes Store. Developers are now working to build similar location sensing services for ordering drinks, accessing reminders and messages, and other services related to a guest's stay.

The iPod touch is not only cheaper than most other handheld kiosk systems, but its also easier to develop custom applications for, looks classier when handed to guests for their use, and supports rich media playback, web browsing, and standard WiFi networking, something few PDAs, smartphones, or other specialty devices can manage all at the same time at a similar price point.

Putting the iPod touch and iMacs in front of well heeled customers on vacation can only help accelerate Apple's push into the consumer market; the company already holds 66% of the market for retail PCs over $1000. The public exposure afforded by its retail stores has had a tremendous impact on the company's sales in the US and in other markets where stores have opened.