Huawei implements a hospital LAN network for Thumbay Group, linking a number of hospitals onto a single, centrally managed architecture
The Thumbay Group is an international business conglomerate headquartered in Ajman, UAE. While it has businesses ranging from trading and retail to hospitality and eateries, its core business is, and always has been, in the healthcare segment. It was set up in 1998 by an Indian entrepreneur, Thumbay Moideen, who opened up Ajman’s Gulf Medical University — the first medical institution in the UAE to offer admission to both men and women. Since then, the group has opened up a cohort of GMC Hospitals, first in Ajman, and then later in Fujeirah, Sharjah, and most recently Dubai.
The hospitals are constituent teaching hospitals for the Gulf Medical University, meaning that, as a group, Thumbay has traditionally focused on healthcare, education and research.
The company has since diversified into 13 different sectors, but its focus on healthcare is just as strong today as it was in 1998. Over the past decade, Thumbay has opened up the GMC Diagnostics Centre, as well as a range of pharmacies. And it has no intention to stop growing — plans are afoot to open up more hospitals and pharmacies, meaning that its IT department needs to be able to accommodate fast-paced growth.
Unfortunately, after Thumbay Group had opened up hospitals in Ajman, Sharjah and Dubai, the company found that its network infrastructure was running inefficiently. Each site had its own separate network — a sort of mini infrastructure — meaning there was very little by way of interconnectivity across the whole group.
While, operationally, the network performance was fit for purpose, this way of doing things was getting quite expensive — to monitor the network of each hospital meant having full-time engineers at each site. Or, at the very least, it meant that IT engineers at the headquarters in Ajman had to be on standby to travel to the other hospitals when and if IT issues arose. Furthermore, Thumbay Group was struggling with meeting its bandwidth requirements at each site, as it brought more and more systems onto the IP network.
“With the old infrastructure, each site had its own separate network. The old network was a two-layer architecture,” explains Vignesh S. Unadkat, director of IT at Thumbay Group.
“What happened is that, over the period, the bandwidth became a huge requirement. Earlier, we were browsing and e-mailing. But now people are watching videos, and viewing live updates, and most of the time, without the right bandwidth, it’s impossible. Earlier the telephones were digital and now they’ve all become IP.
“And then for CCTV, we have IP cameras, and that also requires bandwidth. And we’ve installed a digital signage system, so we control everything from here and that also requires bandwidth. And in the hospital, we have IPTV, and that also requires a lot of bandwidth. So our network has to be very strong and resilient.”
With the networks distributed across various sites, however, Thumbay Group wasn’t getting the resiliency it needed to not only accommodate the growth that it wanted to pursue, but also to provide the best next-generation services to patients and students. Therefore, a reasonably serious network overhaul had to be undertaken by the company.
The idea, then, was to create a single, centralised network that encompassed not only the various hospitals that Thumbay Group had opened, but also its F&B outlets and health clubs. It would essentially be a LAN, centralised at the Gulf Medical University in Ajman, where the group has a small data centre. The other branches would be connected to the headquarters via MPLS through a VPN.
According to Unadkat, it was no easy task to find a vendor up to the task of setting this new infrastructure up. The implementation had to be done with minimum disruption, as patients would still need treating and students would still need teaching. Happily, Thumbay Group is home to what Unadkat describes as a strong purchasing department, meaning that three or four options had to be considered. This, he says, resulted in the right vendor being picked.
“We have a policy that we look at three to four vendors, and we compare the price, the quality and the product before we buy it. Technology is changing so fast so you’ll find that every year there’s a new development, and if you are not on pace with that, it’s not good,” he explains.
One vendor, Huawei, stood out has striking the perfect balance between price, quality and support, Unadkat says. He describes Huawei’s pricing strategy as aggressive, but adds that the vendor was the only one to truly understand Thumbay’s business challenge, and the technology that the company would need to address it.
“They said that they would train our staff so that we could take care of the first and second level of service here. Normally what happens is we get the support from Dubai, and it takes time for people to come here. So that was interesting, and we also heard that they had tied up with Etisalat to provide a lot of network support, so that gave us a good reference as well,” he says.