DPA freezes network upgrade plans

Demand for network capacity was almost outstripping supply, when Dubai Ports Authority (DPA) made the decision to upgrade its network architecture in 1999. By the late 90s the number of users had reached an estimated 1200 and the network was running at 60-70% capacity.

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By  Greg Wilson Published  October 4, 2001

DPA halts plans|~||~||~|Demand for network capacity was almost outstripping supply, when Dubai Ports Authority (DPA) made the decision to upgrade its network architecture in 1999. Since the early 1990s the network, which connected Port Rashid and the Jebel Ali Free Zone, had been based around an FDDI topology with 100 m/bit Ethernet speed. But by the late 90s the number of users grew to an estimated 1200 and the network was running at 60-70% capacity. “It had to be upgraded,” says Arif Al Yedaiwi, communication & network engineer, information systems department (ISD) of the DPA.

After an extensive tendering process, DPA went for Extreme Networks to help boost the capacity and accelerate the network architecture at both sites. The DPA deployed three Black Diamond Gigabit Ethernet switches at the Jebel Ali site and another two at Port Rashid. Each switch is used for a specific segment of the network, ensuring the bandwidth, to certain departments within both sites. “We had to build in some form of segmentation into the network and secondly the network load was increasing as the number of users grew rapidly between 1993 and 1999,” explains Al Yedaiwi.

“We are using Extreme to connect the ports together… there are three main sites in Jebel Ali — the data centre, the executive offices and ISD itself. There was another two at Port Rashid for the [secondary] data centre and the ISD,” he adds.

The ISD’s networking department was assessing a further Gigabit Ethernet upgrade to replace the aging FDDI technology, when the merger between itself and the Information Technology Centre (ITC) of departmental neighbour, Dubai Ports & Customs (DP&C) was announced. The ensuing organisational shake-up has resulted in the networking team within the ISD, taking on responsibility DP&C sites.

Although many of the merger details are still under wraps, it’s widely known that merging the IT infrastructure of both the DPA and DP&C will take time, particularly as both departments run significantly different messaging and application platforms.

For example, DP&C has enjoyed considerable success migrating the local customs community to its Microsoft-based custom-clearance software Mirsal. On the other hand, the DPA runs three different operating system environments and a Lotus messaging platform.

However, what has been decided is “that the network engineers from Ports & Customs will join us here in Jebel Ali. That will increase the number of engineers here to eight,” says Al Yedaiwi.

Although plans to merge both governmental agencies has delayed plans to replace the FDDI links, Extreme Networks is well positioned to win the upgrade project, says Ravindran Subbiah, OS specialist, ISD, with DPA. “One of the main reasons that we went with Extreme was the upgrade path. We made the initial decision with the future growth of the network in mind,” says Subbiah.

Al Yedaiwi added, “we are trying to be proactive, rather than reactive to the needs of the business, introducing products like Extreme switches puts us in a position where we will be able to cater for all of the businessman’s needs… Our plans to migrate to Gigabit Ethernet goes hand-in-hand with the requirements of our business,” comments Al Yedaiwi.

Prior to the announcement of the merger, DPA was also assessing different network management platforms. However, considering DPA is now taking a greater number of sites, plans have been put on hold.

“There is going to be a [single] management infrastructure that will manage both the ports and the customs,” says Al Yedaiwi.

“We started this [project] two months back and we were in the planning stage, making sure that the applications speak to each other and the network itself, the switches and the routers, talk to each other. [The network environment] must be transparent for any person in customs to talk to any application here in DPA and vice versa,” he explains.

Eventually, when both departments have been fully merged, the enlarged IT division aims to become an internal IT service provider to the rest of the organisation.

“The strategy of the network and the IT department as a whole is to evolve into a service provider, we’re going to provide a service to the rest of the organisation,” says Al Yedaiwi.

“The network team, with the assistance of the security team, is trying to ensure that everybody communicates with everyone.”
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