QASCO improves admin processes with Cisco network

Qatar Steel Company is undertaking a large scale IT infrastructure deployment, which will transform its paper-based business environment into an automated and efficient unit.

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By  Zoe Moleshead Published  December 29, 2002

|~||~||~|Two years ago administrative tasks for Qatar Steel Company (QASCO) were all carried out manually and employees even had to walk between the plant and the offices to file documents and other reports. However, QASCO is undertaking a large scale IT infrastructure deployment, which will transform its paper-based business environment into an automated and efficient unit. At the heart of this infrastructure is a campus-wide Cisco Gigabit Ethernet network and Oracle ERP suite.

“QASCO was and still is a paper based company, but we trying to change that,” says Malek Hamdieh, assistant manager, computer centre, QASCO.

“There is a lot of paper flying between the plant and the main office. Our production reports now are totally manual, from the plant to the main office where we have data entry people feed them into different types of format — Word or Excel. The network and the applications we will be running will enable us to record it [information] as and when it happens. Information will be available for people, especially the decision makers immediately, and not pending for a month until the information has been entered into the system and reported,” he adds.

The network will not only ease administrative and decision-making processes, but it will also improve communication between departments and facilitate information sharing between QASCO’s 800 users.

“Previously, there was no communication. Now there is a lot of communication and information sharing, someone sitting in the plant can easily pass on information to his superiors,” comments Anis Kazi, network administrator, QASCO.

“Now, via the network, we are providing file services so our users will store their documents on a document management system on the network and specify the type of sharing they want the others to have,” confirms Hamdieh.

Although the Oracle implementation is still an ongoing project, the network has recently been completed with the installation of Cisco’s Catalyst 6509 switches in the core network and 3548, 3524 and 2900 XL series switches at the edge of the network and Siemon Cat 6 fibre network cabling. The network infrastructure has connected the plant, control rooms and 70 offices that are onsite.

“The [network] project covered the main office and also connected the entire plant with fibre links. We have a core switch — the Catalyst 6509 — in the centre, 3548 and 3524 XL series distribution switches that are connected by direct fibre uplinks and we have 2900 XL series edge switches that go to each desktop. There are around 70 switches that are deployed throughout the plant,” explains Kazi.

To improve network performance and security, QASCO has also implemented virtual local area networks (VLANs). “We have about eight VLANs that have been spread around. We have four in the main office and the remaining four are in the plant to facilitate segmentation of traffic and improve security,” comments Kazi.

Employees will also use the network to access the Oracle applications, which will include finance, manufacturing, supply chain, human resources and maintenance modules, internet, e-mail and web services.

Remote workers in QASCO’s Doha office are also connected to the network through a leased line, while mobile workers can access applications and services through a virtual private network (VPN) that has been deployed.

“We have a remote access service which is installed using Cisco 2600 and 3600 series routers, and we have one high speed ISDN line that is provided to our privileged users, like management staff,” says Kazi.

“We have also implemented Symantec’s Raptor series 4 VPN and we have a Cisco router 2600 series that supports the VPN. This service is also provided to our privileged users that are travelling outside Qatar,” he continues.

Although QASCO has implemented CiscoWorks to help manage the network infrastructure, the steel company has also deployed Solarwinds Engineers Edition 2000 to provide real time updates.

“We use CiscoWorks for the management and we are building a CiscoWorks 2000 server. But, for real time monitoring, we have another software called Solarwinds Engineers Edition 2000, which gives us real time analysis of our network,” explains Kazi.

The network implementation was carried out in conjunction with Mannai Trading and took nearly a year to complete, as the project was hit by the logistical and environmental problems of cabling and networking the four km sq. steel plant.

“The reason it took such a long time was due to the civil works involved. We were networking the whole plant and it was not possible to excavate a lot of routes because of underground pipes and electrical trenches. Also, this is a heavy industry, so the area around is not very easy to wire and it takes time because there is a lot of equipment moving in and out,” explains Kazi.

Although the Oracle implementation is not yet complete, QASCO already has plans to extend its IT infrastructure overhaul by introducing voice services to its network in the next couple of years.

“We had discussions about voice over IP (VoIP) during Gitex and we are doing a feasibility study. It’s a matter of budgeting in a data card and then connecting our existing Nortel PBX equipment to our IP network,” says Kazi.

“Our core switches are capable of VoIP and we selected them with this thought in mind. In 2003 we will start VoIP testing, but an actual implementation would be expected in the second half of 2004,” explains Hamdieh.||**||

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