30 Years of Providing Network Services for the World’s Largest Radiological Conference

INOC’s Origin and Ongoing Story

Each year, the Radiological Society of North America holds the world’s largest medical imaging conference in Chicago’s sprawling McCormick Place convention center. Now in its 108th year, RSNA’s Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting connects over 700 exhibitors, including industry heavyweights like GE, Samsung, AWS, and Phillips, with over 55,000 radiology professionals.

The event is the premier showcase for the latest in medical imaging technology. (Organizers say attending radiologists typically spend 80% of their budgets in the weeks following the meeting.)

For 30 years, RSNA has partnered with us to stand up and run its massive on-premise event network from a pop-up network operations center (NOC). The event’s network supports hundreds of commercial product displays, scientific exhibits, classroom-style presentations, and multiple other operations during the five-day show.

show floor 2022

The RSNA Annual Meeting show floor in 2022

Each year, INOC pulls out all the stops to deliver on the expectations of 100% network uptime. Meeting these service levels requires a multidisciplinary NOC team to orchestrate all the moving technical, engineering, and customer service components that an event of RSNA’s size demands.

To us, however, the annual meeting at McCormick Place is more than just a vendor engagement. It’s where the company’s founders first connected and collaborated on the blueprint for INOC’s unique service model—the same service model that continues to evolve each year as we tackle new challenges across our client base and inside RSNA’s annual event.

INOC’s Inception and the Evolution of RSNA’s Event Support

INOC’s story begins in 1993 when Steve Drew, then Director of Informatics for RSNA, hired Rick Smith, a technologist at The University of Wisconsin–Madison, to design and run a support operation for the Society’s annual event. Shortly after signing on to assist, Rick was introduced to Prasad Ravi, who was heading up Enterprise Network Services at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. The two would go on to coordinate and run the event's support operation together each year.

Ravi and Rick working support for RSNA meeting

Prasad Ravi (left) and Rick Smith (right) working support for the RSNA Annual Meeting in the 1990s

In the early 1990s, RSNA’s event network was—as one might expect—comically antiquated by today’s standards. The 1993 setup, for example, consisted of just eight SUN computers connected by simple cabling. In one memorable challenge from these early years, representatives from GE, Phillips, and Fuji sought to demonstrate interoperability between their latest x-ray hardware (an exciting feat at the time). After some frantic head-scratching, the early support team creatively configured DICOM, a radiological communications protocol, to pull it off.

Throughout the rest of the 90s, demand for better connectivity at McCormick Place drove RSNA to invest in over 40 miles of fiber optic cable for the convention center’s North and East buildings. More permanent infrastructure upgrades would be made throughout the years, financed by event organizers and conference center administrators.

As the network evolved, each year’s event offered another opportunity for the support team to refine its operation. A playbook took shape as the team documented its configurations and processes so they could be repeated and sharpened each time. What had started as a mishmash of loaned hardware and ad hoc processes gradually became a more integrated and organized support operation. In 1997, Prasad Ravi formally took over as the head of event support while Rick Smith managed the event’s frontline IT staff.

By 1999, what was once a rag-tag NOC team had evolved into a central command center for just about everyone involved in the event’s technical operations—from monitoring and troubleshooting to engineering and service desk staff. As new radiology and live event technologies brought new complexities to grapple with from a support perspective, the value of a well-organized, central support team became that much more critical to the event—and that much more appreciated by its organizers.

"I’m confident (about RSNAnet) with INOC coming in and providing the expertise and excellent service. INOC provides us with the management of the overall project and process. If we have a problem, we go to Rick and the team, and they take care of it.” 

Steve Drew
Former Associate Executive Director, RSNA

It was around this time that Prasad and Rick realized they had inadvertently built an entire model for organizing and delivering NOC support that could be transposed into a client-facing service and brought to a market in need of a better solution to enterprise-level IT Service Management.

After drawing up a business plan with another colleague (and future President and COO) Prasad Rao, the team formally incorporated as INOC and introduced its NOC service model to enterprises, service providers, and OEMs while it continued to support RSNA’s annual meeting year after year.

“During the seventh year of running RSNA together, we realized that in building a support operation around the challenges of the event, we had actually built a different approach to NOC support altogether. Rather than treating support as a siloed operation, we treated it as the command center everyone reported to. We put an engineering team at the center of it. Everyone’s actions were documented and run from one place. The other unique thing about our model was our decision to use open-source software to monitor the network. This unlocked a ton of opportunities to pull in more sources of data, integrate with more systems, and put eyes on more things and in sharper clarity. We realized this combination of a de-siloed, engineering-focused approach along with open-source monitoring code had huge untapped market potential. It was the blueprint for INOC we continue to build on top of even today.”

Rick Smith
Vice President of Customer Advocacy, INOC

As INOC scaled outside the RSNA engagement, our NOC team continued returning to McCormick Place each year.

In 2006, the convention center replaced its aging fiber network with a modern fiber/Cat 5 infrastructure that brought internet connectivity across all show floors. In 2008, due to several logistical challenges, RSNA and INOC had only five weeks before doors opened to tens of thousands of attendees and exhibitors expecting another flawlessly-run event. With no time to work with network vendors to obtain loaner hardware, RSNA agreed to purchase its own networking equipment, which we were able to rush for installation and setup. While the purchase was a quick decision at the time, it proved to be a wise long-term investment. Every year since its procurement, the Society’s network hardware has been stored on-site and nearby off-site for convenient retrieval—and periodically refreshed with the latest and greatest gear.

This more-or-less permanent network outlay has also enabled us to lock in an even tighter operation. Virtually every well-executed motion has been documented so it can be repeated each year, exemplifying the type of well-organized operation we strive to achieve in all of our client engagements.

“From the early 90s all the way to 2008, the hardware we used to support the show was always something of a hodgepodge since it was loaned to us by multiple network OEMs each year. Once that permanent hardware was purchased in 2008, we could really start dictating how that infrastructure was set up and operationalized in extreme detail each year. We work with McCormick’s in-house IT and telecom teams to establish networking and connections. The partnerships we’ve established with RSNA IT, McCormick IT, and McCormick Telecom are absolutely essential for the continued success of the show.”

Rick Smith
Vice President of Customer Advocacy, INOC

Today, McCormick Place offers a modern event infrastructure for its event customers. But given the size and complexity of RSNA’s modern outlay, as well as the costs for McCormick Place to run such an operation itself, we continue to return as a supplement to the convention center’s on-site staff with specialized expertise and equipment.

Inside Today’s RSNA Event Support Operation

Over the past three decades, we’ve refined and optimized RSNA's network into a well-choreographed, repeatable process. Today, planning begins more than three months before the event, with all of the infrastructure and support resources coming together quickly as the date approaches.

Here’s a brief look at today’s technical outlay:

The RSNA core network at McCormick Place, “RSNAnet,” consists of three levels.

Level 1 consists of three core racks that RSNA stores at its headquarters year-round in Oakbrook, Illinois. These racks are shipped to the convention center during the build-out. Each is placed underground in the telecom rooms of the South, East, and North buildings.
Level 2 consists of intermediate racks that connect with the Level 1 racks and are stored in on-site equipment closets in each hall. These racks are patched into each closet. We keep approximately 100 switches in McCormick’s closets at all times. 
Level 3 fans off of the Level 2 closets by copper and runs through each building’s infrastructure to each show floor and various booths. Some areas, including the NOC area, are connected from ceiling fly drops as there are no closets close enough to connect to.

In total, RSNAnet spans 125 network closets covering two million square feet of floor space and meeting rooms. The central network is categorized into four separate networks.

The first is the exhibitor network, which supports the variety of radiological technology on display.
The second network is RSNA’s internal network, which simulates the company’s entire operation based in Oak Brook, Illinois, at the convention center.
The third network is for educational events, which supports the demonstrations and classroom sessions.
The fourth network is for scientific exhibits, which facilitates the hardware used by radiologists to present new research and participate in competitions organized by RSNA.

The current network, built and monitored by INOC, delivers premium Ethernet services using a flexible Juniper virtual switching fabric along with equipment from Extreme, Fortinet, and Blue Coat. The INOC team builds multiple automation features like auto-configuration and auto-correlation to ensure quick deployment and efficient support.

A virtual server infrastructure using VMware runs DNS, DHCP, and a variety of other monitoring tools like NetFlow and sFlow to support both remote and on-site incident response teams.

During the event, the on-site NOC team employs the same tools, processes, and operational platform it utilizes in our other client environments: a single-source hub combining the NMS, which receives event data and polls infrastructure elements using a variety of mechanisms and protocols, as well as providing ticketing, auto-correlation, in-depth reporting, and more.

“INOC puts in a fully redundant infrastructure. As it became a much more critical service requirement through the years, McCormick worked with INOC to design and install the whole thing, which has been a big boon to McCormick and is a huge deal.”

Steve Drew
Former Associate Executive Director, RSNA

INOC's RSNA team 2022

INOC’s RSNA team in 2022

Results and Impressions

Here’s a quick look at some of the key results of our event support at RSNA, by the numbers:

  • 100% network uptime/availability

  • 125 network closets covering two million square feet of floor space and meeting rooms 

  • Average attendance of 50,000 onsite and 5,000 virtual; conference sessions are live-streamed globally

And here are some of the impressions from those involved in recent event teams:

“For someone in the NOC, RSNA is an awesome experience, and an opportunity to spend time with, talk to, and learn from others in the company in a fast-paced environment. The NOC engineers help out with testing the network and communicating back to the NOC to troubleshoot and resolve any issues that come up. It's super interesting to learn how the network is set up and run for a huge event.”

INOC Logo Jake Bohme
NOC Engineer, INOC

“We had a new vendor this year providing registration services for RSNA. They do this type of work across the country at different locations and one of their biggest challenges is moving from site to site and having consistent and high-quality network connections. I was talking to one of their senior people  who said, "We had never experienced being handed a connection and having it just work.”

RSNA logo Steve Drew
Former Associate Executive Director, RSNA

“I love many things about RSNA. I love the people and the team, being part of the well-oiled machine. We’re all here to work, but it’s the whole experience that makes it all so fun. I appreciate getting hands-on experience with the network infrastructure every year and dusting off troubleshooting skills. It is amazing to see all the [exhibits] being built and then going from construction to pristine in basically one night.”

INOC logo Mike Ludeman
Senior NOC Engineer, INOC

While newer technologies—like Wi-Fi 6 and 7—may usher in a much more wireless future for the live event networks, the continued reliability and strength of the wired network—and the operational expertise INOC brings to bear—has given us staying power as a service provider into the 2020s. We look forward to tackling new and bigger challenges with RSNA well into the future.

Need high-quality 24x7 support or expert operations guidance? Let’s talk NOC.

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Schedule a NOC consultation and connect with our Solutions Engineering team for a focused consultation on ways to maximize uptime and performance. No matter where our discussion takes us, you’ll leave with clear, actionable takeaways that inform decisions and move you forward.

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