Connection central

Abu-Dhabi based Universal Group forms new network links to improve branch connectivity and increase operational efficiency.

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By  Sathya Mithra Ashok Published  January 5, 2009

Abu-Dhabi based Universal Group forms new network links to improve branch connectivity and increase operational efficiency.

The Universal Group is a long standing member of the business community of the UAE.

Formed in 1973, the group has grown over the years to become a diversified entity, bringing together various businesses and operations under its wing.

As the group enjoyed fast growth, tapping into the economic boom time of the country, the information technology team has changed and morphed to provide it with the relevant support needed to remain stable.

"The central role of the IT team at Universal Group is to ensure stability, reliability and security of our infrastructure and technology operations. We understand that and continue to do our best to contribute to the business," says Mahgoub Mubarak, the IT manager of the group.

The central role of the IT team at Universal Group is to ensure stability, reliability and security of our infrastructure and technology operations. We understand that and continue to do our best to contribute to the business.

With hundreds of employees spread across the width and breadth of the UAE, this is easier said than done. Initially the group started off with legacy systems that were built on the Unix platform with dumb terminals.

"As we grew, these systems proved to be a big challenge for the group. It became a very old system and there came a point when we could not find relevant developers to add, change or customise elements of the system. At this point, around six or seven years ago, we decided to change the infrastructure," says Mubarak.

The group went in for a complete overhaul of the existing infrastructure, replacing the Unix-based system with one built on the Windows platform. The company also brought in new e-mail systems and ISDN connectivity to link to its offices across the UAE.

Over time the group's infrastructure has grown to include application servers, mail servers and proxy servers as appropriate. The company has one primary datacentre at its headquarters in Abu Dhabi, where all the crucial applications are centralised for access by the branches.

More recently the company implemented an ERP solution to back its processes and provide operational efficiency. However, the most recent and significant change for the Universal Group was the shift from ISDN to VPN links.

"For the last so many years, we have been using a 128KB/sec ISDN connection to link our branches across the country. But as we have grown, we found that this was increasingly problem-oriented and inadequate for our requirements," says Mubarak.

Since the ISDN connection provided relatively low speeds, it was creating problems at sites where information delivery was significantly slowed. Generating invoices with the ERP and sending them out to the branches was found to be a growing problem. The group also found it impossible to assure internet access at its remote office locations.

"We were paying a high price for the ISDN connectivity as well, and this did not make sense, especially if we wanted to scale. Moreover, with multiple lines, the complexity of the work involved with ISDN was not attractive. We wanted to do away with all of this with our new investments," says Mubarak.

Considering all its pros and cons, Universal Group decided that it was time for them to shift to VPN connectivity.

Choice and deployment

Once having decided on a VPN, the group's IT team began scouting for the best provider of the solutions.

"Our usual process for the selection of any technology system is that we send out for RFPs to vendors and system integrators. From replies that come in we choose systems based on the capability of the solution, how well it fits into our existing infrastructure and meets our requirements, and the relative cost.

We also look for references for the solution, and do research of our own to ascertain that any particular solution is the right one for the job at hand," says Mubarak.

This was the same process followed for choosing the VPN solutions. After a closely fought competition, the group selected the solution set recommended by Emirates Computers.

"Emirates Computers has been working with the Universal Group for several years. We have a long term relationship with them. They know our infrastructure very well, are very familiar with the environment, and therefore, could provide the ideal solution.

Moreover, of the RFPs that came in, their recommendation proved to be the best. Their proposal involved the least disruption to our service provision, and did not necessitate much of an equipment overhaul," says Universal's Mubarak.

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