Municipality reaches online transactions landmark

Dubai municipality monitors key services from a central NOC ensuring application availability.

  • E-Mail
By  Simon Duddy Published  April 8, 2004

Dubai Municipality’s e-government portal recorded its 300,000th online transaction during March, just five months after passing the 200,000 e-transactions milestone and little more than two years since it unveiled its first batch of online services. The municipality’s most widely used online services are those provided by Dubai Central Laboratory (DCL), which has recorded 85,981 online transactions so far. “It is obvious that our customers have become used to dealing with Dubai Municipality through the internet and that online interaction has become the norm rather than the exception for many services,” says Abdullah Al Shaibani, assistant director general for technical services at Dubai Municipality. “Our aim is to convince more and more customers that the online services provide several key benefits over traditional service delivery channels,” he adds. While the number of transactions carried out over the Municipality’s web sites has grown at a phenomenal rate, its network infrastructure has also grown quickly. Back in 1998 the government body had just 700 users on the network, seven remote sites and a local area network (LAN) for its headquarters. Today, Dubai Municipality has 97 remote sites and almost 3000 users, 1600 of whom are connected to a wide area network (WAN) made up of leased lines, Frame Relays and ISDN connections from Etisalat. It also uses technologies such as free space optics (FSO). It is this infrastructure that has made it possible for the Municipality to provide the Emirate’s citizens with a range of e-services and internal users with mission critical apps such as e-mail and financial software. Furthermore, now Municipality staff have a taste for IT, they want more. “The services we deliver to the community and the demands of our own internal users have grown. For example, they [our internal users] want every service and they want them to be running all of the time because employees no longer work just between 07:30 and 14:30,” explains Indranil Guha, head of Dubai Municipality’s network services unit. This boom in network usage and the expansion of the infrastructure placed an increased amount of pressure on the Municipality’s network services team in terms of additional monitoring. While perfectly acceptable for a dedicated team of engineers, such demands began eating into the team’s primary role of overseeing network expansion. “We launched our e-services about two years ago and we have grown in leaps and bounds since in terms of the network,” says Guha. “However, we realised that the engineers who are responsible for designing and implementing our networks did not have the time to monitor them properly,” he explains. To rectify the situation, Dubai Municipality recruited Gulf Business Machines (GBM) early last year and asked it to design a network operations centre (NOC). Although work is ongoing, the centre has been operational since last July. Located at the Karama-based DCL, the NOC is currently manned by two administrators and two operators who use IBM’s Tivoli Enterprise Systems Management solution, which runs on IBM servers. So far the Municipality has deployed the software suite’s Management Framework, NetView, Enterprise Console and Tivoli Decision Support (TDS) modules. Combined, the tools monitor the Municipality’s critical systems, identify the root cause of problems and summon engineers to fix them. However, rather than simply focus on network components, the Municipality has set the Tivoli suite up from an application perspective because they matter most to its users. “We wanted to monitor the applications that people rely on, such as e-mail and the financial applications for internal users and the e-services for our customers,” says Guha. “We also wanted to do more than monitor services and actually measure their performance so we can do load balancing and perform more accurate capacity planning,” he explains. As part of its quest to learn more about its network, Dubai Municipality has yet to switch on many on the autonomic functions within the Tivoli suite. For instance, it is only now planning to deploy the SMS functionality that allows the system to compare faults to an engineer’s timetable before alerting the appropriate person. “We have switched off most of the autonomic features for the time being because we first of all want to learn about our network and get the right people in place and understand the volumes of our network properly. This will help us better parameterise the software and make it more effective,” explains Guha. Despite the fact that the NOC is an ongoing project for Dubai Municipality, it is already delivering a number of benefits. For one, it allows the government body to fix network problems faster as they are identified more quickly and engineers can be deployed to correct them immediately. “In the scenario of a network failure... the NOC can identify the key systems affected and provide system administrators with advance warning. They would then notify the relevant people and appropriate action can be taken,” explains engineer AbdulHakim Malik, director of the information technology department at Dubai Municipality. “This demonstrates how the NOC is able to enhance productivity, improve availability and provide better service,” he says. In addition to proactive support, the NOC allows Dubai Municipality to plan its network capacity more effectively and measure the quality of services it provides to both internal and external customers. It also allows the Municipality to prioritise traffic. For example, if an internal e-mail with a large attachment is clogging up the network and preventing an external user from completing a transaction, the latter can be given the right of way. “We have much better uptime and capacity planning with the NOC. We can now identify bottlenecks and resolve them before users get impacted on and we can use the statistics we generate through the reports to get a better idea of how our network is functioning. Although we don’t have service level agreements (SLAs) in place today, we will be able to use the data gathered to create these,” says Guha. “For the business, it means more revenue at the end of the day. The simplest example is the car parks because if the technology behind the payment machines works 24x7 then it means we can earn more revenue from them. It also allows something like the Clinic to deal with more patients,” he adds. Moving forward, the NOC will add to the 14 mission critical services it currently monitors for the Municipality and continue to promote the centre’s work throughout the government body. According to Guha, this is key, as it will make the NOC the first port of call for support staff dealing with user problems. “To help promote this culture change we have been reporting success stories. For example, if the service has gone down in the evening but is back online by morning management will send an e-mail saying that the NOC has delivered once again,” he says.

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code