Super Yacht Technology Network Podcast

Super Yacht Technology Network Podcast

Tech talk on stage with Adam Aquilina about the evolution of IT in the maritime industry.

 — Start of Transcript —

Kris
Good afternoon, over the years the evolution of IT and communications has drastically changed the way yachts are operated by crew and enjoyed by guests, today we’ll be taking a look at this evolution, where we’ve come from, where we are now, and what that means for the future of IT in the maritime industry.

In the last 20 years, there’s been a lot of IT changes onboard yachts for crews and guests. Adam Aquilina has been part of this journey from the very beginning, why don’t you take us down memory lane ?

Adam
Yes indeed, there’s been a drastic shift in what IT ‘means’ on board, how it’s used, who uses it, and what it can actually provide for guests and crew. Initially the IT on most yachts was as simple as “that’s the COMMS PC, and that’s the NAV PC”. The COMMS PC would connect via a Fleet 55 or 77 once every so often, and you’d get a few moments to send and receive some emails and download the latest weather, and nothing much else happened.

Kris
So a really limited experience and not one which actually had any effect for the crew or guests, it’s almost a completely different picture than what we’re used to or take for granted today. You could say that there was no resources for the crew back than?

Adam
No not at all, the IT and networks served a purely ‘secondary’ function, and if it didn’t work that was OK - people just got on with their lives until the internet was available again, there was no “AV” network to speak of either, everything was just infrared remotes and analogue TVRO.

Kris
All this changed massively when things like VSAT and 3G came into the picture not that long ago and they where the first real proper internet for the maritime industry.

Adam
Yes exactly. The main catalyst to change has always been what communication systems the yacht had available to it. As those systems improved, we saw a big shift the types of technology available onboard. Suddenly the yacht had an always-on, relatively fast source of internet, and that gave{ rise to things like dedicated crew workstations, file servers, onboard email servers etc., and of course a yacht would need to have a network to support those systems.

Kris
We saw AV systems being implemented which could also use those networks, and so wireless controls and media streaming across a network came into play. With the increase in internet speed came an increase in the overall complexity of the onboard IT systems, and more and more they started to resemble ‘floating offices.’

Adam
Exactly, If you look at what a typical network looked like back then, you’d see it was essentially a collection of systems and servers all providing internal access to resources, onboard file servers and onboard media servers like K-scape. These systems were surrounded by this ‘shell’ that was connected to the rest of the world by ‘string’ of an internet connections. As a network engineer you had to be really careful with who could use that string, how much of it they could use, and make sure that all the systems you had running onboard would still work when that string broke.

Kris
VSAT and 3G, is old tech though, although some still solely rely on this technology for their day to day sailing requirements, we’ve seen improvements in these technologies, how about when things got a little faster, such as ‘better VSAT’ or 4G?

Adam
I would say that as communications infrastructure got faster and cheaper, more yachts came to rely on them. It then became a case of needing to ‘control’ what was onboard, rather than things fundamentally changing with regards to ‘what’ was onboard. For example, yachts quickly realised that they needed a way to control the bandwidth to various networks, to make sure the crew wasn’t taking all the speed away from the guests or systems. That’s where we see changes, not so much in terms of ‘what kinds of internet was onboard’, but rather how the internal networks were designed and what systems were put in place to control that internet.

Kris
The systems onboard in effect matured into the fundamental designs we see today. A yacht which had for example 30Mbps of total bandwidth available to it, had very much the same kinds of systems and control policies in place as a yacht that had say three times that amount.

Adam
That’s how all the yachts look like presently, even though we see a lot of advancements, most of them are just a better version of the same technology; are we at the pinnacle of the next big thing?

Kris
We all know that technology moves forward super-quickly nowadays, and it’s really become normal for a phone or a TV that’s over a year old to be ‘out of date’. But it’s not that often that we see an actual paradigm shift. If you look at 5G today, you’ll see it’s basically everywhere, and we have new LEO satellites being launched all the time; we need to ask if this means ‘just more of the same but faster, or is this something actually new and can we use it in new ways?’

Adam
We’re already seeing big changes in the industry and we’re just at the tip of the iceberg, the introduction of new services and capabilities is going to be 10-fold larger than we’ve ever seen. With services such as mail, storage and TV already in the cloud, the necessity of onboard hardware is shrinking by the day.

Kris
That is actually a really good point, going back to what I was saying before with this ‘shell’ of systems inside the yacht which only worked inside the yacht. I personally see a lot of change in the very near future, in fact there has already been a lot of change.

Adam 
If you think about it, it’s really uncommon nowadays to have onboard email servers, most yachts have already transitioned over to the cloud for their email – I see the same trend starting with other ‘on board’ services. Like right now you could go to pretty much any size yacht, and without spending obscene amounts of money, you could give that yacht access to multiple, independent, 100Mbps plus internet connections. So why do we still need onboard file servers, that can all be moved to the cloud? Why do we need onboard media libraries when everyone wants to stream content anyway? 

Kris
The way I see it, that ‘shell’ has basically been broken, and the onboard network and IT system will actually become a lot simpler. It will literally just be the internet connections and distribution around the yacht.

But it won’t stop there, most companies already shifted to cloud service only, so from temperature sensors to weather mapping, and everything in between, companies will require a solid, fast internet to function at their very basic level.

With the shift to cloud services being so popular are we seeing the demise of IT Engineers / ETOs in their current capacity?

Adam
Not necessarily. These new technologies are enablers for more opportunities rather than less, the difference would be the set of skills required, as well as faster, more rapid interventions than before as we’re more dependent on the internet services. This means a more resilient, redundant infrastructure needs to be designed and properly managed in order to maintain an always-on, always available internet service at shore and on the go. An engineer friend of mine once said: I can tell the owner the boat doesn’t have a propeller and he won’t blink an eye, but tell him the internet isn’t working and the charter is over.

Kris
Obviously with this shift to cloud services that bubble we spoke about in the beginning is now split into a cluster of little bubbles that we need to manage. How do you envision the future will look with such a change.

Adam
That’s very interesting, a lot of services are already taken for granted, where we see many boats shifting to Office 365 without thinking much about it, because it’s really easy right? These services are underestimated sometimes and aren’t protected or backed up by default, and it here that new opportunities and knowledge comes into play and how integrity can be maintained where the system is onboard or in the cloud.

It's all about the balance of function and usability; you can’t just start joining all these new services without a proper setup either, so the question is how does one go about it?

What I recommend is that you always do your own homework, understand what your end result is going to look like because knowing is half the battle won. Take the time and read or ask about products and than have a discussion with your IT provider to help you consolidate your ideas in a simple deployment and migration plan.

Kris
It’s not complex, but when you have key services that the yacht / business relies on, it’s important to minimize your downtime as much as possible. The same goes for ongoing support - it always a good idea to have someone externally that can assist when things go wrong, because we all know they usually go wrong when you’re knee deep in … well you know where I’m going with it

Adam
Right! So in fact these cloud services have been around for a very long time in the corporate office environment, we’re not new to this field, one could say history is repeating itself; we have all the resources in hand and know what needs to be done to evolve into this new hybrid / cloud space. Let me ask a difficult question here, maybe the audience can also chip in and transition into the Q&A session.

Kris
Is cloud really the next phase of evolution or are we just following what others in land-based businesses have done? Is it something the maritime industry needs or wants?

Adam
It’s interesting and it provokes a lot of thought. On the one side we’re dependent on the products the companies are developing, and it’s clear that most, if not all companies, are steering towards cloud-only SaaS. On the other hand, you still need navigation information to be available in all weathers and states, the same goes with a phone system - you don’t want the captain calling the engine room via the internet do you.

Kris
Of course with the introduction of LEOs and 5G becoming more mainstream the internet will become more of a second thought, currently we’re obsessed with doing speedtests every other minute to make sure the internet is still there. Once the industry gains the trust of the internet providers to provide 100% always on reliable internet, the shift to cloud I would say is imminent.

Adam
Correct, but the transition won’t be that cut throat, the transition will take some time so in the interim we would see a hybrid space being developed and a transition towards an all cloud service as the next phase of this evolution.

— End of Transcript —


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Schedule a call with our awesome team !

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YOT LTD delivers a comprehensive array of IT solutions tailored to the specific demands of the Maritime, Enterprise, Commercial, and related sectors. Our services encompass connectivity, IT infrastructure, Software as a Service (SaaS), and dedicated technical support.

Elevate Your Experience. Get Started Now!

Schedule a call with our awesome team !

About us

YOT LTD delivers a comprehensive array of IT solutions tailored to the specific demands of the Maritime, Enterprise, Commercial, and related sectors. Our services encompass connectivity, IT infrastructure, Software as a Service (SaaS), and dedicated technical support.