Game changer

The UAE Football Association recently completed an office move and enterprise IT infrastructure upgrade in record time. Mark Sutton reports.

Tags: Blade serverEmitac GroupUAE Football Association (Uaefa)United Arab Emirates
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Game changer Bhadir: The FA’s previous server infrastructure was disruptive to productivity.
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By  Mark Sutton Published  July 6, 2010

Moving office locations can be a challenge for any company, but moving office while carrying out a major upgrade of all of the company’s IT systems - and while working to a very tight deadline and without disruption to end-users - is a task that many IT departments would baulk at.

It was such a situation, however, that faced the UAE Football Association at the start of this year, when it moved from its existing headquarters to a new building in the Al Khawaneej district of Dubai.

The UAE FA had only a short period left of its agreement with its existing offices when its new, purpose-built building became ready. This left the FA, and its systems integration and support partner Emitac Support Services (ESS), to compress what would normally have been a seven-week project into a three-week time frame, with just nine days to move around 70 users to the new facility. Alongside moving physical location, the UAE FA wanted to upgrade its IT infrastructure, update systems, introduce new services and add additional layers of security and reliability for services.

The organisation’s existing IT set-up used a single server to host its Exchange e-mail application, with no back-up, a single domain server and an additional server to run a bespoke sports management application, running on Oracle. The system had rudimentary security, and only tape back-up. The IT solutions were not hosted in a data centre, and the FA was also reliant on an old telephony system, with no UC systems in place.

The decision was made to introduce new systems for almost all aspects of the FA’s IT, to both provide better tools and connectivity for the staff, create more reliability in systems and to provide a stable platform for external connectivity and to launch new services. The new building includes a full data centre deployment, with a properly configured data centre and supporting physical infrastructure including power, fire detection and alarm system, humidity controls and air conditioning, all of which was designed and deployed by ESS.

Ahmad Bhadir, head of IT for the UAE Football Association, explained that the organisation wanted the highest standards for its new data centre infrastructure: “In our previous location, we were using one Exchange server without any back up, and one domain server and a server for the Oracle application, so if there was any failure in the server, we would have to stop work. We thought seriously about making our data centre high availability, that is why we asked Emitac to provide four servers for Exchange, two servers for the domain, for active directory, and also two servers for RightFax.

“All these servers and applications are communicating with each other, there is integration between them and the high availability is also there. We have two UPSs, we have monitoring for the environment inside the data centres, we have fire systems for the data centre - we are using the latest technology,” he stresses.

Blade boost

At the heart of the new data centre, the FA has switched to HP blade enclosures and HP blade servers to run its core applications, spread over two locations in the HQ building.

For back-up, the organisation has switched to an HP MSA storage array, running HP StorageWorks storage mirroring software, and HP Data Protector software, to provide replication and failover of data, and automated back-up of data respectively. Previously, the FA had very little back-up provision, but the new system not only gives it much more resilient systems, but has allowed the organisation to cut back- up times from five or six hours down to 45 minutes.

The data centre hosts a number of key applications for the FA, including Microsoft Exchange 2007 for e-mail, Microsoft Active Directory 2008, RightFax fax server, SQL server and Microsoft Office Communications server. The UAE FA took the opportunity to upgrade some of its applications during the move, while migrating the Active Directory and Exchange mail boxes.

One of the most important applications for the UAE FA is its in- house sports management application, which was custom built by Emitac for the FA in 2003. The solution runs on Oracle, and handles most of the core functions and data of the FA, in terms of registering players, coaches and other officials in UAE football, recording match information and scheduling, and administering the financing around these activities.

Bhadir explains: “We have about 7,000 players registered every year with the UAE FA, we have about 1,500 matches every year and more than 1,000 officials every season, so there is a lot of data.”

As well as the data centre solutions, the organisation also rolled out an entirely new network infrastructure.

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