UAE MOJ boosts network
The UAE Federal Ministry of Justice faced increased demand on its network from users and from the need to deploy e-government and m-government services. To ensure better application performance and the stability of its infrastructure, the Ministry has carried out a major update to its infrastructure
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The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is the federal government agency dedicated to providing judicial and legal services in the UAE. Under the Ministry’s remit is the federal Supreme Court, as well as the Federal Prosecution, as well as a host of other services provided to individual emirates’ courts and administrations. Headquartered in the capital, Abu Dhabi, this juggernaut of justice is at the epicentre of the country’s rule of law — its importance as a government department cannot be overstated.
In terms of IT, The MoJ’s need for high availability is pressing. With huge numbers of court cases around the country to be processed every month, the data needs to be accessed easily as well as securely. Add to this a whole host of e-government and m-government services as mandated by the country’s leadership, and it becomes clear that MoJ cannot get by without a first-rate infrastructure, particularly in the face of the expected growth in smart services.
To cope with this expansion in smart services, the MoJ has an impressive data centre site located at its headquarters in Abu Dhabi. However, with everything, from case files to hosted e-services, coming through that data centre, the MoJ’s IT team realised quickly that it needed to add some more redundancy to the equation. The ministry’s disaster recovery site, located in Sharjah, was impressive when it was first built in 2006, but the equipment was beginning to show its age. This meant that, effectively, the main site constituted a single point of failure — the old Sharjah data centre simply wouldn’t be able to cope in the case of an outage.
“The performance of the equipment — you could say that we were facing some bottlenecks on some of the devices,” explains Nazar Awad El Karim Mohammed Ahmed, head of IT infrastructure division, IT Department, Ministry of Justice.
What’s more, because of the growth in e-services and m-services, the IT team wanted to balance some of the load being placed on the main site. Again, the Sharjah site was in no state to accommodate this. Finally, the Sharjah Court was becoming increasingly important to the ministry, given the number of cases going through it, so the MoJ decided that the data centre at Sharjah Courts should be overhauled and updated.
“Our main focus for this project was to build up for future expansion, driven by government initiatives like e-services and smart government. The Sharjah Network Project was one of our main scopes of project during this year. This is because our Sharjah court is our main courts centre in the northern Emirates, and it’s our DR site,” says Ahmed.
“At the beginning of last year, the plan came up to improve the performance of what was existing at the time, because the government wanted to start implementing smart technology. We looked into our infrastructure, and we decided to improve our data centres in Abu Dhabi and in Sharjah. We finished the first phase of Abu Dhabi last year, and this year it was the Sharjah data centre that needed to be improved.”
According to Shiras Majeed, senior networks and security engineer at the MoJ, the DR site in Sharjah needed a major overhaul. He explains that the ministry wanted to be able to route more traffic through it to relieve some of the strain on the main site in Abu Dhabi. However, the problem was that the site had to be upgraded with minimum disruption to the existing architecture. With so many cases going through the Sharjah Courts, the ministry could not afford to have the branch’s IT department offline.
“With the DR site, we needed to deploy more servers, more technology, and we don’t want all of the nodes to come to our Abu Dhabi data centre. We don’t want all the traffic to be coming to Abu Dhabi from a networking point of view, so we wanted to share some of the load with Sharjah,” says Majeed.
“But the challenge that we faced in Sharjah was that it’s one of the biggest court buildings across the UAE - the number of cases is huge. It was really a challenge to adopt this technology and change the architecture.”
Not deterred, the MoJ’s IT team began speaking to its technology partners, working out how to upgrade the DR site within budget and with minimum downtime. This was certainly a challenge, as the ministry demanded an eclectic technology mix made up of various switches, servers, firewalls and security products — almost every layer of the network would be affected. The project began in December 2013, and had to be finished within three months.
Because much of the project revolved around eliminating bottlenecks so that the Sharjah site could take some of the load off the Abu Dhabi site, the MoJ team decided to focus on upgrading the networking switches within the data centre. The team decided to opt for Brocade’s FastIron SX800 switches, which boast extensive feature sets, though that wasn’t the only reason why the MoJ went with Brocade — Ahmed explains that the MoJ had already been a good customer of Foundry Networks, which was acquired by Brocade in 2008. And the ministry’s experience with Foundry gave Brocade an edge when it came to procurement.