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UAE infrastructure ministry upgrades IT to support smart government

The UAE's Ministry of Infrastructure Development has upgraded its datacentre and networking infrastructure to support the government's smart services drive

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The UAE Ministry of Infrastructure Development (MoID) has overhauled its datacentre and network infrastructure to support the country’s shift towards smart government.

The ministry plays a crucial rule in the urban development of the UAE by completing national infrastructure projects including government housing, and building for sectors such as healthcare, education and justice, as well as road networks linking the emirates to each other.

The ministry’s mission is to achieve sustainable development in planning, establishing and maintaining infrastructure projects and to organise the national housing sector.

When sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and the ruler of Dubai, launched the Dubai smart city programme, urban planning was one of its key pillars.

The support from the country’s leadership was very clear for MoID’s IT organisation, but it faced a challenge: it had an inflexible IT infrastructure unable to keep up with the demand for new applications and services.

Smart savings

In June this year, Smart Dubai Government (SDG) revealed that shared smart services had enabled the Dubai government to save AED4.3bn ($1.17bn) since they started in 2003. SDG is the technology arm of Smart Dubai, a city-wide initiative.

Wesam Lootah, CEO of SDG, said: “Since 2003, we have been committed to delivering impactful smart services for the government of Dubai in line with the vision to make Dubai a global benchmark for smart government. For the first time, we can quantify the benefits that we are delivering to the government due to enhanced efficiency, greater agility and higher responsiveness in government services.”

Analyst IDC has forecast that ICT spending in the Middle East, Turkey and Africa (META) will top $260bn in 2016 as organisations in the region embrace digital transformation initiatives to streamline their costs and bolster flexibility.

According to IDC, a key facet of the digital transformation revolution taking shape in the region is the emergence of the internet of things (IoT) ecosystem. IDC predicted that IoT-related investments in META will create a market opportunity worth $7.03bn in 2016.

Infrastructure failings

For the MoID, the datacentre and network infrastructure revamp was needed to deal with the challenges of a lack of good redundancy and high-availability clusters, which are often used for load balancing, backup and failover purposes.

Hessa al Suwaidi, IT director at MOID, said: “Our datacentre infrastructure was in silos and our network in segments. We had no high-redundancy and high-availability clustering. Our database and applications were hosted on the same server, which posed issues related to security, scalability and performance.

“We were looking to transform our datacentre into a strategic business asset and move to smart services in line with the country’s vision.”

Read more about IT projects in the Middle East

The MoID engaged systems integrator Think Software Services to support the datacentre project.

After a detailed evaluation of the ministry’s IT infrastructure, Think Software was joined by Dell to create a roadmap to a more stable, reliable and highly available datacentre to cater for existing and future demands.

Servers virtualised

The first step was to consolidate servers through extensive virtualisation. “Now our datacentre environment is 90% virtualised, which helped us gain efficiencies and capabilities that were not possible with the physical-only world. We have not only been able to reduce the datacentre footprint but also reduce power and cooling requirements,” said Shamsa Abdulla Hussain Ibrahim, network manager at the MoID.

In addition to more uptime and business times, consolidating servers down to a few physical machines through virtualisation also helped the MoID to build a disaster recovery solution and extend the life of older applications.

Bandwidth boosted

When an organisation embarks on virtualisation, the datacentre’s bandwidth requirements also go up. Though virtualisation has an immediate impact in terms of overall efficiency, it requires an extensive upgrade to the underlying network infrastructure to work well.

The MoID’s IT team understood this and overhauled the ministry’s network to address bandwidth bottlenecks. Keeping in mind that growing businesses will require more bandwidth and a stable network to cope with increased traffic, the organisation redesigned its network infrastructure by upgrading its switches to avoid a single point of failure and to achieve high availability.

The MoID has also implemented a network monitoring tool from SolarWinds to analyse traffic and bandwidth usage. This gives the IT team better visibility inside the network infrastructure and components, as well as centralised management and an alerting system if any of the nodes malfunction.

Siloed storage

Another issue that the MoID’s IT team had to tackle was storage, which was in multiple pools.

“Our data volumes were growing in size and storage utilisation was rather high,” said MoID IT director al Suwaidi. “Because of the fact we are involved in construction, we have to deal with data-intensive files such as GIS drawings, which significantly increase storage requirements.”

After analysing the ministry’s data usage patterns and requirements, Think Software proposed a new storage area network (SAN) to support future growth. Today it uses Dell’s EqualLogic SAN, which provides a shared pool of virtual storage that can adjust dynamically according to application needs.

“Now we don’t worry about storage limitations,” said al Suwaidi. “This gives us a platform to move to business intelligence and analytics in the near future as well.”

The next phase

She added: “Thanks to a brand-new network and highly virtualised datacentre, the ministry is all geared up to move to the next phase of IT transformation, which will enable it to cater to the speeds and needs of the business.

“As a result of this project, we have also been able to bring our e-services back in-house, which were earlier hosted at a third-party datacentre. Now, all 23 services are available through our website and can paid for through e-dirhams or credit card.

“We had the support of higher management, especially Abdullah Belhaif al Nuaimi, minister of public works, in achieving our goal of 100% small governance.” 

The MoID’s datacentre and network upgrade project has won multiple independent awards. It is an example of how to harness the power of technology to improve customer service, enhance employee collaboration and keep costs in line.

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