Utilizing Network Visualization to Shape Traffic on the Network


Network VisualizationEach year Air Methods Corporation transports more than 98,000 patients who require intensive medical care either from accident scenes or from general care hospitals to highly skilled trauma centers or tertiary care centers. To handle the urgency and volume of these critical missions, the Englewood, Colorado-based company operates a fleet of 300 helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft at 300 bases in 48 states. While Air Methods is dedicated exclusively to the field of air medical transport, its product and service offerings extend well beyond the actual airlifts.

The company also designs and manufactures medical aircraft equipment and interiors, provides a complete medical air and ground transport billing solution for providers, and maintains a nationwide medical communications network. The communications network supports key offices in five different locations plus 300 remote bases that access the network via VPN. Each of the five main offices provides a specialized operational function:

  • Colorado—corporate headquarters
  • California—billing center
  • Omaha—dispatch
  • St. Louis—dispatch
  • Pennsylvania—helicopter maintenance

Supporting the network visualization from Air Methods’ Colorado headquarters is a senior network engineer, Xavier Chaparro—the sole networking engineer among a 20-person IT department. He provides support for all network applications and, along with a radio engineer, also provides support for critical radio-over-IP used for live communications from aircraft to the remote bases.

Challenges for Chaparro and the team began to occur during a network expansion. In the past, Chaparro used WAN optimization appliances to shape traffic across an MPLS network. However, when a network expansion required considerably more bandwidth than the hardware could support, Chaparro opted to use the Quality of Service (QoS) functionality already included with his Cisco routers rather than reinvesting in larger, more costly appliances.