HPE Aruba puts connectivity to work on Italy’s floating hospital for COVID-19 patients

Jessica Twentyman Profile picture for user jtwentyman April 14, 2020
When MSC Group converted one of its ferry ships into a floating hospital in March, HPE Aruba provided the GNV Splendid with the connectivity that COVID-19 patients and the medical teams caring for them would need.

(via MSC Group )

Until as recently as early March, the GNV Splendid ferry ship was hard at work, carrying passengers between the Italian port of Genoa and the Moroccan capital of Tunis. Today, she’s stationed at Ponte Colombo in Genoa’s ferry terminal, acting as a ‘floating hospital’ for Covid-19 patients from the northern region of Liguria. 

As Italy quickly emerged as the European country most seriously stricken by the coronavirus, the effort to get the ship ready for this new form of service was fast and furious. In just a few short weeks, her operator Grandi Navi Veloci (GNV), part of MSC Group, had her converted, fully equipped and ready to accept patients - 25 of them initially, but with the potential to house approximately 400, if needed. 

A large number of companies assisted in that effort, providing goods and services free of charge, from a manufacturer of rubber flooring to fast-food company Burger King. Another of them was Aruba, part of Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), which supplied and installed a network infrastructure on board the GNV Splendid in just five days. 

A five-day effort 

This network consists of some 70 access points and over 4 kilometres of cable and provides Wi-Fi coverage for patients, healthcare workers and crew on the ship, according to Fabio Tognon, country manager for Italy at HPE Aruba. 

He got the call on a Thursday from a colleague, telling him that MSC Group, already an established Aruba customer, was going to donate one of its ferries to the fight against Covid-19. If Aruba wanted to help out, it needed to move fast - so the first step was to contact channel partners in Italy to check they had the required equipment ready to go in their inventory. Luckily, they did - and the race was on. Says Tognon:  

We actually got the work done that weekend. It was a Saturday and Sunday, when the lockdown was already on - so we had to move people and products in a lockdown situation and get them to the harbour in Genoa. There, we worked with the excellent team from GNV, who supported us in their knowledge of the ferry, because in the end, you have to know where the decks are, how cabins are organized, where they wanted to put the patients and so on.”

Usually we have a lot more time to design, to make plans of installations, perhaps do a proof of concept - but not this time. This project required quick action. We had to use our time in a very, very productive way.

In terms of testing, he adds, it was down to the team’s previous experience of maritime projects and its skill at performing on-the-fly testing that it achieved its goals in the limited time available. That previous experience was vital, because of the particular challenges posed by delivering connectivity across a large metal structure comprising multiple decks and watertight compartments.

Putting the network to work

The Aruba network is now supporting medical efforts on board the GNV Splendid, including data transfer to and from the San Martino Hospital in Genoa. This makes it possible for medical staff to share with their onshore colleagues up-to-the-minute information about the condition of patients on board, as well as access their medical records from systems based at the hospital. 

It also connects on-board operations with a screening area situated on the dockside, where arriving ambulance crews and patients are received. In this way, the immediate needs of patients can be anticipated before they even board the ship. 

Finally, it’s also improving the day-to-day experience for patients, enabling them to stay in contact with the outside world, and with friends and family in particular. Says Tognon:

Our technological choice for the vessel was the Wi-Fi 6 technology and Aruba 515 access points that support the 802.11x standard, because this would deliver the best performance for a large, high-density population of connected devices, and a wide variety of devices, too, including medical devices, doctors’ laptops and tablets, and patients’ smartphones, as well as devices that enable the crew to monitor on-board operations from the deck.

Despite the pressures involved in this project at what is already a very difficult time in Italy, Tognon says it was an opportunity to help that HPE Aruba couldn’t ignore. 

The crisis for Italy was - and still pretty much is - unprecedented and dramatic. Any kind of contribution we could make for our country is a pleasure and an honor. 

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