Service Provider

With its promise of reliable, managed voice and data services, Dubai’s Internet City (DIC) and Media City (DMC) free zone is pulling in customers. But this is just the beginning...

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By  Zoe Moleshead Published  September 3, 2002

Network infrastructure|~||~||~|In nearly three years of operations, the Dubai Internet City (DIC) and Dubai Media City (DMC) free zone has attracted 700 residents with the promise of 100% ownership and low cost, high-tech voice and data services. Key to delivering the free zone’s IT services promise has been the deployment of a sound and comprehensive network infrastructure.

DIC/DMC also act as the free zone service provider, reselling internet bandwidth from Etisalat. And with construction plans continuing apace, those responsible for planning the development of the free zone claim to have just touched the tip of the iceberg.

With such a large task in hand, the free zone plans ahead as much as possible, particularly with regard to the passive cabling layer of the network. The service provider is deploying Avaya’s Cat 6 Systimax cabling solutions across its different sites.

“What we do in most of our buildings is pre-cable. We plan and design the whole cabling infrastructure within the building and we put in Cat 6 structured cabling from Avaya,” says Farid Faraidooni, director of telecom, Dubai Technology, Electronic Commerce & Media Free Zone Authority.

“We distribute the outlets throughout the floors [using] a generic design that caters to most of our customers’ requirements, starting from two man start-ups all the way up to multinationals with 300 or 400 employees,” he adds.

The service provider has installed a mix of Avaya’s OptiSPEED fibre cabling and over 4,500 kms of its GigaSPEED copper cabling to provide 60,000 fibre connections and 87,000 copper connections throughout the free zone. While fibre optic cables are being used to interconnect the buildings, the cabling within the buildings is mostly copper.

“We use fibre — single mode and multimode — to interconnect all the buildings to deliver voice and data services from our data centre. Within the buildings it is pure Cat 6 copper, with some fibre to the desktop,” explains Faraidooni.

Fibre to the desktop has primarily been rolled out to larger multinationals that require higher bandwidth speeds, or those that wish to connect their servers to the backbone via a fibre link.

“We have some companies that require fibre to the desktop and that is also available, but 97% is copper [to the desktop,]” comments Faraidooni.

When it comes to the active components of the network infrastructure, the free zone has deployed a converged metropolitan Ethernet solution from Cisco. The network currently incorporates 380 switches and routers, 6500 active network points and 700 broadband internet connections, providing tenants with one single access point for their voice and data services.

“On the networking side we use Cisco to deliver our services end-to-end. We have a converged metropolitan Ethernet network that supports all our services — voice, data and video — on one single converged network,” says Faraidooni.

Each of the campuses within the free zone has its own core multiple Gigabit Ethernet network and the buildings constitute nodes on the Dynamic Packet Transfer (DPT) Ring. In addition, a redundant core has also been installed for the whole zone.

“Each campus has a ring, its called a DPT Ring, and all the buildings are nodes on this ring, which carries up to 5 Gigabits of traffic. The ring is fault tolerant, self-healing and it has huge bandwidth — 2.5 Gigabits in each direction. Our campus backbone is a total of 5 Gigabit. Then within each building [there] are Gigabit switches,” explains the director of telecom.

“On the core we are using Cisco 12000 series [internet routers]. At the distribution layer we are using Cisco Catalyst 6500 and Cisco 10720 internet routers, and on the access layer we are using the Catalyst 4000 — this is where the customers connect into the network,” he continues.

||**||Virtual LANs|~||~||~|According to Faraidooni, over 80% of its customers are outsourcing their network requirements to the free zone telecom team, which creates and manages virtual local area networks (VLANs) for them.

“Very few customers have brought in their own switches and routers. It is just the multinational companies that have because they have their own global standards and certain products and models [that they have to use]. Most companies utilise the virtual LANs that are managed by DIC,” he comments.

When it comes to configuring the VLANs, all customers are required to do is notify the DIC or DMC team as to how many LAN points they require in their office, and then leave the deployment and management headaches to the free zone telecom service provider.

“[What] we do is find out how many LAN points they [customers] require in the office. If they say ‘we require 15 LAN points in the office,’ we create a virtual, secure LAN, and manage it for them. They don’t need to invest in switches, they don’t need to manage switches and they don’t have the overheads to keep those switches on their premises,” says Faraidooni.

Increasing or decreasing the size of the VLAN is also very straightforward, customers simply inform the DIC or DMC team if they want to make any changes and this is then carried out for them.

“It is very easy to delete or expand the network, so whenever customers require additional points they just send a request to us through our call centre and we just add them automatically. Since the cabling is there we just need to do a few configurations from our data centre and they can have the additional points without even adding switches or routers or buying equipment,” states Faraidooni.

As part of its remit the free zone also provides tenants with 2 M/bit/s broadband internet access, and managed hosting services for customers’ e-mail, web servers or internet applications.

“We charge them based on their usage and the volume of traffic that they send through there. This way small companies get the benefit of 2 M/bit access, but will not pay as much as the multinational companies that are heavy users of the internet,” he adds.

In addition to providing data services to its customers, the free zone has installed one of the largest and most complex IP telephony solutions in the Europe, Middle East & Africa region in a service provider environment. The Cisco solution provides customers with managed telephony services, meaning that customers do not have to invest in key systems and PBXs. Much like the creation of the VLANs, customers inform the telecom team about how many phones they require and the department sets up a virtual PBX system for them.

“Customers don’t need to invest in key systems or PBXs, they just request handsets… We install these phones in the offices in the same data outlet that they use for the LAN. They connect their PCs or laptops to the phones. It’s the same connection that’s carrying the data traffic as well as the voice traffic — it’s a pure converged network,” says Faraidooni.

Currently, there are 4500 IP phones in operation in the free zone and the telecom team caters to the needs of all its customers, whether they require just two phones or 500. Aside from saving tenants the capital cost, the virtual PBX systems also provide tenants with the standard features they require.

“The phones will act like they are connected to a central PBX, with extension numbers, outside dialling, missed call, voicemail, received call, transfer, conference call and so on,” adds Faraidooni.

||**||Future plans|~||~||~|Although, Faraidooni is responsible for a 40-strong team, which is split into four groups — data network & telephony operations, cabling infrastructure & service provisioning, projects & network development and ISP — he also emphasises the vital role of the free zone’s management platform.

“The network management [platform] is one of the most important elements we rely on to operate our network. Otherwise we would be just driving blindly,” he explains.

With the responsibility for maintaining customers’ LAN, WAN and telephony services, an efficient and centralised management solution is critical to Faraidooni and his telecom team. The team has installed a host of management suites for the various elements of the network infrastructure, but uses HP OpenView as the central management platform.

“For our network management we use various element management systems, such as CiscoWorks 2000 and Cisco WAN Manager, then we have other system managers for the telephony infrastructure and hosting servers. But they all report to a centralised management system, which is HP OpenView. We do all our network management, fault management and performance management from OpenView,” explains Faraidooni.

HP OpenView also simplifies the management process, by collecting various alerts and information from the other management programmes and network elements, categorising the nature and urgency of the problem and notifying the network operation centre engineers and respective departments. Alarms and fault notifications are also sent via SMS messaging to team leaders and line managers.

“HP OpenView continuously monitors every network box, collects all the alarms from the network and categorises on the screen the alarms — whether it is an alarm, a [minor] fault, a critical fault or an outage,” says the director of telecom.

“In addition, team leaders and managers receive SMS notifications on their mobiles. If there’s a problem during the day or night we receive a SMS notification saying there is a problem in this building, on this switch and this port,” he adds.

Aside from meeting the free zone’s technology requirements and long term vision, Cisco and Avaya won the contracts because of the strong local support they have in place.

“We found that Cisco was operating and offering technology that was mapped to what we had in mind. The same [goes for] Avaya as well,” says Faraidooni.

“One of the common factors between Cisco and Avaya is they are great at providing support locally and this was one of the most important criteria in choosing a partner,” he adds.

Although Faraidooni admits to some teething problems during the initial rollout of services, he claims that as the expansion of the free zone has continued the problems have become smaller and the team less dependent on its partners.

“In the first few months there were some problems, they were not major problems, but required lots of fine tuning here and there to bring the network up to the level that it was supposed to be,” he explains.

“Today we are doing the expansion ourselves. For cabling, because it is a labour intensive process, we use external contractors, but we do all our planning and designing in-house and then we give it to our contractor for implementation. But on the Cisco side we do it ourselves without the help of any external resources. We place all the orders directly with Cisco, they ship the equipment to us, we install it, we configure it, we do all the commissioning and testing with the free zone telecom team,” Faraidooni continues.

With the second and third phases of the free zone now complete, plans are underway to extend the range of services delivered to existing tenants, adding video services, such as video-on-demand and internet TV.

“[Video services] will run on the same converged network, so the same pipe or connection will deliver voice, video and data services,” Faraidooni says.

The rollout of the video services is scheduled for later this year and will coincide with the free zone’s move into residential properties. Residents of the 160 villas will be able to benefit from the same voice, data and video services as the business community stationed in the free zone.

“In October we will have our first residential area consisting of 160 villas, which we will serve with the same IT and telecom services, but packaged for residential usage,” explains Faraidooni.

“We have been providing services to only business end users, but we will be providing similar services, but tweaked for residents, [including] broadband internet access, IP telephony and video services over the Ethernet network,” he continues.

The free zone is also examining the merits of introducing wireless services next year. Currently, the only wireless hotspot in the free zone is in the DIC corporate office.

“Within the DIC corporate office we have wireless, but we have not implemented it as a service to our customers yet, but we are planning that. Hopefully next year we will concentrate on wireless services, wireless IP phones and new technologies,” states Faraidooni.

The current network infrastructure will have to be expanded to support phase 3 of DMC, which is due to be completed this year, adding an additional three buildings. The Knowledge Village is also gathering momentum and potential customers ahead of its completion in the second quarter of next year. With an overall plan stretching to over 400 buildings, Faraidooni says the biggest challenge is to keep rolling out new services to its residents.

“The master plan of the [free zone] contains more than 400 buildings and we are just at the beginning. The plans are massive; there will be lots of buildings, lots of campuses, and lots of parks. We will be studying all of this and we will be adding lots of new services,” he says.||**||

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