QH&M Birt gets a Network with City Features in (Very) Remote Australia
QH&M Birt is one of Australia’s busiest civil contractors. They prepare mine sites for commercial operation and build roads and dams in the kind of environments where roads and dams have never been seen before and in some of the most remote locations in the country
It’s not all about big earthmoving machinery though. Lots of planning and compliance activity occurs on-location, requiring access to IT systems. But just as there are no roads, there are often few ways of getting data and voice communications into and out of the work site.
That’s what we faced when we helped them recently…
The Project Challenge: (Very) Remote Networking
On a particular location on Groote Eylandt, off the coast of the Northern Territory, the company found itself struggling for quality reception and network access. There was no fixed line service available and the only mobile service was hampered in two ways: signal strength and network capacity.
They were using Thin Client application delivery services, which as good as the technology is, requires a consistent network quality in order to perform to an acceptable level. But the network couldn’t deliver. The result was drop-outs, freezes and achingly slow response to keyboard input. Sometimes it would take 30 minutes just to send an email.
The network’s capacity did not permit the remote management of laptops. That meant of course that it was difficult to ensure the devices were secure, and almost impossible even to deploy anti-virus updates.
It also meant that the ability to access important company documents was limited. To facilitate faster document exchange, Dropbox was used as a band-aid solution for offline access but it was difficult to create appropriate access permissions and synchronization still required the consumption of network resources.
The working location didn’t help either. The offices were located in repurposed shipping containers which absorbed the limited mobile signal. Plus, the containers were located almost a kilometre apart and there was no local WiFi signal – each laptop had its own 3G dongle. That platform was never going to work.
On top of all of that, the company had several other sites that were experiencing the same dilemmas.
The Solution? A Smart Combination of Give and Take
When we assessed the situation we determined that we needed to achieve the following for Groote Eylandt and any other location they might operate from in future.
We needed to:
- Remove the reliance on constant network connectivity for local collaboration. Staff needed to be able to share documents at the project site irrespective of the external network’s status.
- Tailor network connectivity per site. That meant offering 4G data if available, deploying an expensive Ethernet option from Telstra if available, using a third party wired or wireless networks, or (as is often the case in these locations) using Satellite services.
- Management of the scarce network resources to accelerate and prioritise access to critical data and improve system responsiveness. We needed to provide real-time messaging, priority access to emails and file servers, limit the use of social media and streaming and control the cost of mobile phone communications.
We achieved those outcomes by using a combination of:
- Network optimization through use of an Exinda device that allowed us to give priority to voice, email, critical websites and file services. It also allowed us to cache a local copy of common data with instant access to data previously transferred on the same link. The Exinda will work with ADSL, Microwave, and more challengingly Satellite technology where network latency can be in excess of 600ms
- Ruggedised Wireless Equipment including 3G/4G and WLAN (802.11) equipment
- High-gain signal-diversity antenna to provide connection in fringe reception areas
- Networking of the site office and workshop through a site-to-site high-speed wireless link
- Installation of a local caching server to provide fast access to local project data
The Result? A Very Happy Client
We have deployed a ready-to-go solution which can easily be transferred to other locations and work almost straight out of the box.
We use a combination of Local Applications and Citrix XenApp published applications to give the users what they need, in a secure, robust and flexible environment.
The company now enjoys file replication services where local files are automatically synched “back-to-base” in Brisbane. It provides fast local access, data security through our back-end data centres, and continuous data protection.
We have removed the need for an “always-on” network by providing staff with some local autonomy.
We replicate project data where needed to allow local collaboration, even when offline.
The bandwidth improvements mean that you can now collaborate with staff in head office in real-time.
Our work has potentially removed the need for an expensive VSAT installation and satellite bandwidth in fringe reception areas.
Wherever they want to go and work, IT will be an enabler – not a limitation
We enjoyed working with them.