Little Island — Cutting Edge off the Edge of Manhattan

Some of our favorite projects are when we surprise clients with the broad range of consulting services Macktez offers. A client may come to us for end user support, then be delighted to discover we also design and install large-scale, critical networks, video conferencing systems, and complex workflows. We’ve been hired for a low-voltage cabling project, and then asked for general technical consulting and support over the years that follow as our relationship grows.

Little Island offers a profound example of this experience, working together to help this new public park open on Manhattan’s west side.

How it started

Macktez was referred to a potential client needing some service support for their very small office — Can we help untangle subscriptions from a previous managed service provider? Can we recommend some new workstations for a few staff members? Would we be available for occasional desktop support? Yes, yes, and yes.

When this startup moved into a small office across from the construction site they were managing — an ambitious, high-profile build-out of a new pier in Chelsea — Macktez was asked to recommend and design a new local network configuration. That led to a few questions about how this office network would be integrated with the park’s network across the West Side Highway, and a request to take a look at the WiFi specifications provided for the park by their general contractor.

And that’s when the real fun began.

How it’s going

In reviewing the draft IT plan for the park, there were a bunch of questions left unanswered by a subcontractor no longer working on the project. Some of the plans were very good — for example, the WiFi placement outlined would provide excellent coverage for park guests — but the underlying network equipment had not been specified and the network topology had not yet been designed.

“Macktez asked us for an equipment list,” recalled Park Operations Manager Kathryn Lewis, “but it didn’t exist.”

More importantly, there had not been enough consideration for the environmental requirements of an outdoor installation, nor was there sufficient redundancy built into the plan for power outages or other equipment failure.

Jason Stewart, Consulting Head of Development and Construction, explained the situation: “When design started in 2012 there were a lot of high-level guesses about what the eventual tech needs would be. The engineering company responsible for making most of those initial decisions didn’t really ask questions to force us to understand the issues, so they made some generic assumptions.”

When Macktez CTO Reilly Scull got involved in 2019, said Stewart, “He identified the problems and the solutions.”

Macktez has been supporting active outdoor public spaces in New York City for years. We have a long-standing relationship with the High Line (which is how we connected with Little Island to begin with), and we’ve managed the transition away from municipal IT services for Brooklyn Bridge Park and Governor’s Island. So Reilly knew right away, for example, that power redundancy is not optional — it’s a public safety requirement to support emergency communication systems.

Having identified these vulnerabilities, Macktez was contracted to review the park’s architectural and engineering plans from top to bottom to close any more gaps in the IT plan.

“What I really appreciated about working with Reilly in particular was understanding and explaining how everything is connected,” said Lewis. She added, “It turns out the internet is connected to everything.”

“This project evolved radically in so many ways,” said Stewart.

Macktez talked to FDNY and NYPD, then worked with the park’s electrical team to design a redundant system with huge backup battery capacity through excess conduit that had already been installed.

Stewart recalled, “We wasted a year getting Verizon to even tell us if high-speed internet was available.” When the answer was no, Macktez reached out to Pilot Fiber. Our longstanding relationship with Pilot prompted them to negotiate a special arrangement for the park.

Stewart said there were so many “pragmatic issues — entirely outdoor space, weather, topography.” Reilly advised the contractors on the kinds of waterproofing and environmental controls needed to protect IT equipment in an outdoor, marine environment with huge temperature swings.

Over the course of the year, Macktez became an integral part of the core project team, to make sure that every part of the project that relied on the IT network was compatible, well-considered, and expertly installed.

“Reilly realized the fire alarm wasn’t connected,” said Lewis, “and that half the security cameras weren’t focused correctly.”

“It’s very easy for someone in the decision tree to say, ‘Well that’s out of your scope, we’re not going to listen to you,’” said Reilly. “Of course everyone was apprehensive when I would raise red flags. But Little Island’s willingness to receive critical feedback was the only reason we were able to make these necessary changes to the project.”

How it finished

Little Island officially opened to the public on May 21, 2021.

The Little Island team now has a 10G, fully redundant network that’s completely integrated with the park through 40G backbones. The park’s multi-gigabit wireless system is backed by Cisco Catalyst 9000 Series switches, while Cisco’s Industrial Ethernet Series switches provide protection from temperature and humidity extremes in the more exposed outdoor locations.

Given the many different systems and services Little Island intended to utilize, and with the park’s staff growing significantly, Macktez recommended and configured a comprehensive single sign-on environment. We chose JumpCloud, allowing for a wide range of integrations to every aspect of the organization — email, conferencing, access control, human resources, password management, and much more. (Read more about this from JumpCloud.)

We’ve deployed a fleet of nearly 100 portable workstations that can be used by anyone on the park staff, with secure on-boarding and off-boarding handled remotely.

Many members of our team were involved in this project: Strategist Nate Smith oversaw the initial office assessment; CTO Reilly Scull spec’d the entire network and built it out with Scott Battaglia. Patricia Mastricolo managed a huge amount of logistics assignments; Ray Brown and Sam Smolinski performed the physical installations; consultants Tanika Grant, Zachary Lui, Kelly Donovan, and John Barera have provided user and logistical support; and CEO Noah Landow has lent oversight to the entire project.

“Ultimately, our goal was to make sure everything ‘just worked’ and worked really well,” said Reilly, “so that the Little Island team could focus on their mission of creating a magical user experience for visitors.”

Macktez is extremely proud of our contribution to Little Island, and encourages all to come enjoy this spectacular addition to the city.