Access for architects

Wafi Group has signed up for an offsite file transfer protocol (FTP) to facilitate easy international collaboration between architects working on its expansion plans.

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By  Matthew Southwell Published  July 1, 2004

|~|wafibuild_m.jpg|~|Wafi Group has signed up for an offsite file transfer protocol (FTP) to facilitate easy international collaboration between architects working on its expansion plans.|~|Wafi Group has signed up for an offsite file transfer protocol (FTP) server from Comtrust. Located at the Etisalat company’s Dubai-based hosting centre, the outsourced solution facilitates easy international collaboration between architects and engineers working on the Wafi City expansion plans. Rather than burn blue prints onto CDs and ship them around the world using couriers, third party providers working on the group’s expansion projects can now access centrally held plans via a secure virtual private network (VPN). “Wafi Group is working on a number of building projects in Dubai. One of the biggest projects is to build a hotel on the Wafi City site. As such, we have a lot of architects and business partners from around the world working on plans,” explains David Watt, group IT director at MKM Commercial Holdings, which manages the Wafi City complex. “What with different time zones and the amount of travelling people do, it made sense to create something that people could access whenever they needed to work on the plans. This is why we set up an FTP server through which we can share plans and documents with various architects and business partners around the world,” he says. Live since the beginning of March this year, architects accessing the FTP server are faced with a simple tree file structure. From there they can download the master plans, work on them and then return them to a new folder. “The file structure looks exactly like the file structure a user would see on their PC, which makes it easy for our contractors in Australia, China, the Far East and Dubai to use,” says Watt. In addition to increasing information access for its team of architects and engineers, Wafi Group’s decision to outsource its FTP server has ensured greater protection for its confidential plans. Not only is the server itself password protected, but users also have to access it via a VPN and only parties authenticated by Wafi Group can log onto the machine. “The big advantage of outsourcing the FTP server is that it is highly secure, which is important because these documents are confidential,” says Watt. “While we could have put this on our own server it would have opened our network to the internet, which means we would have to have built additional defences to protect it,” he adds. While outsourcing the FTP server has minimised Wafi Group’s security worries, it has also removed the burden of managing the server from Watt and his six man technology team. Instead, it can focus on value add projects and the day-to-day job of supporting a local area network (LAN), 20-plus servers and over 150 networked users. “The only management we have to do is for the architects to ensure they keep the master plans in the right place. The other management is the security aspect and Comtrust does this as it is on its infrastructure and behind its firewall,” explains Watt. “This is good because we only have a small IT team that is already responsible for a number of things,” he adds. To ensure Wafi Group’s senior decision makers bought into Watt’s plan to outsource the FTP server, he created a business plan covering a number of options, all of which were worked out in terms of risk, return on investment (ROI) and total cost of ownership (TCO). “Everyone in the Middle East is paranoid about security, so to persuade the managing director we looked at different options, such as doing it ourselves and buying a server; doing it ourselves and leasing a server, or outsourcing it entirely,” says Watt. “We looked at the cost of ownership over three years and it actually works out a little cheaper going with the outsourced Comtrust option and there is also the risk factor, as I am unwilling to risk the core network,” he adds. Additional comfort has been provided by Comtrust’s service level agreement (SLA). Although it does not state a minimum uptime and detail financial penalties for failing to meet projected availability, it does at least ensure Wafi Group is made aware of when the FTP server will be unavailable. According to Watt, this is acceptable as not knowing when the service will be available again is often the biggest problem for end users. “As part of the SLA, Comtrust has committed to informing us about downtime. Usually the issue is not so much the network going down, but not knowing why and when it will come back up. If the users know when it is going to come back they can typically work with it,” he says. “As part of the agreement we also get statistics on usage and uptime. Although we did have issues initially, since then it has been fine,” Watt adds. Moving forward, Wafi Group is keen to build more outsourcing into its information technology strategy as it embarks on a period of upgrades and new projects. Watt recently had 15 projects signed off by senior management and these will cover a range of implementations as the group grows its business and creates a central IT infrastructure capable of serving an increased number of users. “Wafi Group is not a group that has invested a great deal in IT in the past so we have a lot to do,” says Watt. “We are making a conscious effort to look at IT and implement a strategy and a number of projects,” he adds. This desire to create an effective service but not invest in a huge pool of resources is where the outsourcing part of Wafi’s strategy will be key. The IT team is already investigating hosted web sites and outsourced solutions for the group’s loyalty card system, and other projects are also in the works. “We are not an IT company… we provide services across the group but we are a costed (sic) service provider. If we build up a big pool of resources for projects, the question is then what we do with them after the projects are finished,” says Watt. “As such, we are making a conscious effort to look at IT and implement a strategy and a number of projects. Outsourcing is a part of that grand plan and we may utilise further services from Comtrust and other outsourcing companies,” he adds. ||**||

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