Putting the ‘e’ in city

Qatar is embarking on an ambitious project to bring the IT and energy sectors together under one, very technically-advanced roof. IT Weekly went to the launch of the eCity development to discover what the country hopes to achieve through its construction.

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By  Administrator Published  March 14, 2007

Qatar is embarking on an ambitious project to bring the IT and energy sectors together under one, very technically-advanced roof. IT Weekly went to the launch of the eCity development to discover what the country hopes to achieve through its construction.

Energy industry workers of the future will live and work in one of the most sophisticated digital cities in the world, being able to access everything from house keeping services to corporate IT systems online and to pay for everything as and when they like.

At least, the ones that work in Energy City Qatar (ECQ) will be able to do so.

That was the bold vision spelled out by ECQ executives last week, as an ambitious partnership with Microsoft was announced to create an ‘eCity’ — a state-of-the-art environment within ECQ itself.

ECQ is the US$2.6 billion project that has been developed by a consortium of energy firms to capitalise on Qatar’s huge reserves of oil and gas — especially gas. While the Gulf state is the smallest member of Opec (the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) it is expected to become the world’s top liquefied natural gas exporter this year as it sits on the third largest gas reserves in the world.

The aim of ECQ, which was announced last year, is to create the Middle East’s first-ever integrated energy hub, providing housing and offices for oil and gas companies, as well as for their suppliers.

To do so, it needs to offer attractive services, which is where the eCity comes in. The eCity will provide a range of advanced services to residential and business users aimed at offering them a ‘digital lifestyle’ and thus attracting top companies to the project.

“The concept of the smart city has lots of benefits for our clients in terms of cost reduction, efficiency, integration, in terms of connecting lifestyle with business,” Hesham Al Emadi, acting CEO for ECQ, told IT Weekly last week.

Microsoft is working closely with ECQ on the project and will provide companies in the city with hosted IT services, including cross company collaboration services that will allow firms working within ECQ to interact better with each other. Examples of planned services include instant messaging federation, instant collaboration, portal setup and video conferencing services.

Corporate IT services provided would include managed services, including co-location services for international firms covering areas such as racking services and access control.

“It is really helping companies come in and start their business; adding value rather than [just] setting up shop,” said Ihab Foudeh, Microsoft Gulf services lead.

However, communicating this concept to people has been a major challenge, according to ECQ’s CTO Khalid Al Khudayri. “Not everybody understands the importance of IT. My challenge was to try to take all this information and communicate that in an understandable comprehensible language,” he said.

In addition to Microsoft, ECQ has also partnered with Cisco on the project. The networking giant designed the IT infrastructure and will also supply some of the network components such as switches and routers, as well as some security equipment, according Al Khudayri.

For both companies, the eCity is a high-profile project, one that has secured personal commitments from both Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and Cisco chief executive and president John Chambers.

ECQ is also working with strategic advisor Accelerator Technology Holdings and will shortly be recruiting another partner in the form of an infrastructure contractor, executives said last week. The main focus for this year will be completing the design for ECQ, doing the pre-qualification of the infrastructure contractor and then begin construction, Al Emadi said.

The next big project for ECQ will be the establishment of the city’s electronic trading platform the International Mercantile Exchange (Imex).

Other schemes in the pipeline include the development of a procurement centre, data centre, visualisation centre, lab centre and core facility centre, Al Emadi said.

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