Dear Webcammers(I have to apologise for the length of this post – but I think it is needed to understand the bigger picture and to give you a bit of insight into our Data Network and the future thereof)
You might have noticed that the Satara and Orpen Webcams in Kruger National Park have been taken off our website. This is a temporary measure and not permanent
! No need to stress!
Both these webcams (at Satara and Orpen) have been experiencing connectivity problems for the past few weeks and the telecoms company is struggling to get on top of the problem. Both these webcams are physically functioning well (even as I type this, they are imaging who knows what at the waterholes…) BUT the images do not get back via our network (WAN or Wide Area Network) to the webcam server in the US reliably.
A special investigation has been logged with the telecoms service provider to look into this issue as without the communication link back to our Wide Area Network (WAN), the webcams can’t open our small window of nature to all our webcam watchers across the world.
We have been getting a lot of complaints from all over the world about the fact that Orpen and Satara are constantly giving problems and ‘are more offline than online’ as one comment indicated.
That all is true and we have decided today to remove these two webcams from our website itself for now.
As the data lines are so unstable at the moment, the images from these webcams were sometimes getting to the server and sometimes not causing lots of frustration for our webcam viewers.
Rest assured that both these webcams are still physically at Orpen and Satara and will be linked back to our website as soon as the communication problems to these two sites have been sorted out.
The communication links in Kruger Park works via a microwave system owned by the telecom service provider and is depending on several high sites (repeaters) inside and outside of Kruger National Park to relay the signal to our sites in Kruger National Park. Some of the sites (like our Bush Camps and ranger posts in Kruger National Park) are utilising satellite communication links to be able to access our network as there is no other means of data communication possible.
Both Satara and Orpen are linked to the above microwave system. The communication failures we are experiencing on the webcams are also impacting on our normal day-to-day operations in both these sites. The recent rains might have added to the problem but the connectivity issues at these two sites started well before the rain hit Kruger National Park a week ago.
The unreliable data communication links are impacting on checking in our valued guests into our beautiful park at reception, checking and booking accommodation, email, etc. The link to Satara is very unreliable at the moment. Satara is operating via the satellite backup which is in place at Satara. Orpen also has a satellite link as backup in case of main network failure.
Your next question will be, why don’t we add these two webcams to the satellite link as well?
The answer is very short and simple: We can’t without hampering business critical systems. Even more strain will be added on the satellite links and the data segment on the geostationary satellite 36 000km above the earth will be under even more pressure. We have to give preference to our business critical applications and other systems utilising these satellite links. Just to name a few of our sites which are linked via satellite for data communication and sometimes even voice comms as well: all of our Bush Camps in Kruger National Park, Nossob and Mata-Mata in Kgalagadi National Park, Mountain Zebra National Park, Namaqua National Park, most of our ranger posts in Kruger National Park, Marakele National Park, Mapungubwe National Park, Tankwa Karoo National Park and several other sites (almost 40 sites linked to our network via satellite).
A webcam is generating about 3.6MB of images per hour which translates to 86.4MB per day per webcam. For Satara and Orpen it translates to around 180MB per day. Now for most of us living in areas where data communication links are in abundance, it does not sound like a lot of network traffic but to add that bit of data to our already saturated satellite links will impact on our business critical systems (all sites share the same satellite and satellite segment).
The only option we had was to take the two webcams in Kruger National Park off the network for now until the communication issues via the terrestrial links (microwave) are sorted out.What is being done about the problem you might ask:
As said, these two sites (Satara and Orpen) have a special investigation kicked off by the telecom service provider to resolve the issue. This will resolve the issue for now (short term). The capacity on the satellite links as well as the communications link from the Hartebeeshoek Earth Station (where all the satellite links terminate) to Pretoria are being doubled (process not completed yet). This will ease the pressure on our sites linked via satellite to our network.What about the longer term:
The process to change the technology behind the whole of the SANParks data network (WAN – Wide Area Network) started in the second half of last year (2011) already. SANParks is switching to a new technology MPLS network. (For those of you who want to know what it means, a search on Internet will provide you with all the technical details; I don’t want to bore the normal cammers with that
). This new network will provide much better connectivity, throughput, bandwidth (speed) and reliability to our sites in SANParks (including Satara and Orpen).
MPLS is not new technology in the network communications world BUT it was previously not possible due to the location of our beautiful parks. No service provider could provde us with that....up to now! It would have been much easier if all our parks were in Midrand Area or Pretoria
! But who wants to look at the N1 highway via webcam…gmmff
We have successfully switched several SANParks sites already to the new MPLS (VPNS) network with huge success! Addo was one of them! Our users in Addo are smiling – and so are our webcam viewers!
In Kruger National Park so far we have switched Malelane, Numbi and Phalaborwa gates so far to the new technology in December 2011. These sites are not even scratching the max of the bandwidth they have available and there is more to spare!
Most of our sites in and around Cape Town (Table Mountain National Park) have been switched to the new MPLS network as well. Some sites in the Garden Route National Park (e.g. Knysna area admin offices: 2 sites) and Wilderness have been switched successfully as well. Addo was done as well as said above (both Addo Rest Camp and Matyholweni Rest Camp). Golden Gate’s 3 sites were switched successfully as well. The Golden Gate Hotel was switched last week Thursday!
SANParks is changing the whole SANParks network to the new technology MPLS network provided by the telecoms service provider and the progress is good in most areas (see above) BUT the telecoms service provider is not that quick to get it done in Kruger National Park, Mapungubwe, Marakele, etc. for several reasons. We can’t just put up masts and other structures anywhere in our parks because of the visual impact it might have. Power/solar panels comes into play (with the theft thereof as an added ‘feature’). In places where it is needed, we have to go through a proper EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) as prescribed by law
. Some of these assessments (done by qualified external companies) can cost more than R500 000 to complete and that does not even include the mast/tower/etc!
All of this is very much needed as I don’t think our guests visiting our national parks will appreciate lots of masts or towers on the horizon and high sites in any national park. Sunsets looks very different behind a microwave tower with lots of dishes on it compared to the sun setting behind a baobab or fever tree as it should be
A rhino scratching itself against an aluminum mast next to the H1-1 road in Kruger National Park is a definite NO-NO
This whole ‘essay’ was not written to tell you about the problems we are experiencing BUT to give you a look of what is being done about it, the reasons behind this PLUS what about the future!
Please bear with us with the Orpen and Satara webcams not being available at the moment!
We really do apologise for the inconvenience experienced for the non-availability of the webcams at Satara and Orpen in Kruger National Park at the moment.
I am sure lots of us are having withdrawal symptoms without these two webcams giving you, our valued cammers, a small window on nature! I have heard a cure for these withdrawal symptoms is to visit one of our parks in person!
Enjoy Nossob (via satellite) and Addo (via the new MPLS) in the meantime! I’ll keep you up to date on the progress and the stability of the data comms lines carrying the images of the Orpen and Satara Webcams from these two sites to your computer screens!
Thanks again for your patience and understanding and happy camming!