Al Yousuf administers computing for the MOE

Radical update of education IT facilities with new PC labs and connection to wide area network across the United Arab Emirates by the Al Yousuf group.

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By  Paul Barthram Published  September 29, 2003

I - Introduction|~||~||~|With a new academic year already started for the school children of the UAE, the Ministry of Education with the help of Al Yousuf Computers has fulfilled its ambition of providing the Emirate's 438 schools with an architecture of modern up-to-date computer labs, and network facilities.

The project was split into two tasks with Al Yousuf having to equip the schools in the region with fully functional high specification computer labs, and the construction of a new wide area network linking the schools records directly to the Ministry of Education all within a period of 70 days.

"To improve communication between the Ministry and schools spanning the UAE, it was crucial that we all be able to access up-to-date and centralised information whenever and wherever it was needed," said Mohamed Bin Hindi, under secretary for financial and administrative affairs, Ministry of Education, in Abu Dhabi.

"The installation of a strong network of IT labs in schools throughout the nation was an important achievement in our plan to make today's advanced technologies available to our students for the benefit of tomorrow's UAE," he added.

The end result was a combination of 747 high specification NEC PCs, and 126 Epson Stylus colour printers, all linked to Lucent Routers and Accton switches and cabling that connected the schools' individual local area network (LAN) to the ministry's wide area network (WAN), with all equipment and after sales support supplied exclusively by Al Yousuf. Intel Xeon-based rack mount servers filled the server requirements.

"We chose Al Yousuf Computers to implement these projects due to their longstanding track record of providing the highest levels of service and practical know-how whilst exhibiting the flexibility to adapt to our unique requirements," explained Bin Hindi.

Eighteen companies had applied for the tender, before Al Yousuf was eventually awarded the contract, but according to Suhail Ali Zain-Eldeen director of the Al Yousuf group, even with the company's good reputation, price was an important factor, and the company faced stiff competition from Dell in the tendering process. So to ensure success in the contract, Al Yousuf approached all of its suppliers to arrange a competitive pricing strategy on the deal.

"For us it was really a challenge because NEC pricing is not necessarily cheaper than Dell, but we put the pressure on NEC saying 'this is the MOE you need to position yourself right', and they extended special pricing to get the tender just right. We did the same practice with Lucent, and also for the data connectivity provider Accton, who has a big market share now in the Middle East."
||**||II - Technology|~||~||~|
The decision to go with these suppliers though was not in itself price-led, as Zain-Eldeen explained. "These are exclusive contracts we have with our suppliers because we believe the equipment we use should live up to certain expectations. We believe in the brand, the reliability and the quality.

"A challenge for us was to persuade the ministry to accept Lucent, because the people in the ministry would have felt more comfortable using the Cisco brand, because they had their whole backbone on Cisco. But we've proved the Lucent technology router is just as good as the Cisco one, in terms of remote site administration its easy to configure, and is good on the maintenance," said Zain-Eldeen.

"And Cisco, if you allow me to say, in its distribution model, anybody can be Cisco, but in Lucent Technology also they're very selective in choosing their partners, and that was a unique thing. So selecting the vendor that was a key issue, the commitment from the principle," Zain-Eldeen explained.

The equipment agreed upon, and with Al Yousuf Computers all set to get the implementation underway, the company set about assembling six teams, each consisting of an engineer, a helper, and a driver to deliver and install the hardware at each of the 438 schools in time.

"When we put the whole map of the UAE in front of us, and started drawing the route for each team it became clear that to complete in the time period you couldn't send out one or two teams to just go and come back all the time. So we came up with multiple teams to cover different territories. Each day these teams would start from point A, B, or C, and this way made it possible for us to send them out and finish five or six schools per day. So it was really planned very well in terms of that," said Zain-Eldeen.
||**||III - Challenges|~||~||~|
The teams still faced individual challenges as they set about to complete the mammoth project, covering schools around central areas such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai, to remote schools on the borders, and coastal areas such as Ras Al-Khaimah.

"Admittedly having to coordinate around the school's time schedule was difficult, because the schools were on vacation period, and most of the time we might not find the staff there who were available to take the machines," said Zain-Eldeen. "And there were also a lot of modifications to the list which could made life difficult. Sometimes we had to take machines out of schools, and put them into others."

With the implementation now completed, the company's commitment to the ministry continues through a dedicated provision of service engineers and telephone help line with centres in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

"What's unique about this contract is the after sales support we offer. Believe me there are some of these schools as much as 600-700 kilometres away from Abu Dhabi, so you're going further to almost the borders of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, so the after sales support was a real issue to be looked at," said Zain-Eldeen.

"We have now assigned people that are dedicated for the schools; six people, who drive around and check on the equipment at regular intervals. There are school site administrators, but its up to our certified NEC engineers to looking over the smooth running of these machines, and it's a real challenge, because of the time issue, schools here don't operate like normal business days," Zain-Eldeen added.

Despite the difficulties Zain-Eldeen said the company would not hesitate to work with the MOE again. "We would like to. We look at the ministry as our major customer, our biggest customer, and our longest customer, and that shows the commitment that we are willing to do further business with the ministry."

Zain-Eldeen is tight lipped on any specific future projects with the ministry but said to expect some major announcements from the company soon. "Yes we have in the pipeline projects we are working on it's in the tendering, hopefully you'll hear from us soon on that, perhaps even at Gitex".
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