Case Study: Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd use a complex desktop computer solution

Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd use desktop computers to provide them with the flexibility and independence necessary for the demands of...

Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd use desktop computers to provide them with the flexibility and independence necessary for the demands of their business

The Sir Robert McAlpine Group has played a major part in some of the most significant British constructions this century. With projects ranging from Wembley Stadium to the foundations and substructure for London's tallest building, the Canary Wharf Tower, the organisation encompasses 13 associated companies and thousands of workers. Current projects include the Millennium Dome in Greenwich and the Jubilee underground railway line extension.

Primarily a UK-based organisation, the group employs over five hundred Gateway desktop PCs in their regional and on-site offices that are connected to a WAN via ISDN. These computers assist in a variety of tasks from quantity surveying, design and engineering to costing and administrative work.

PCs are apportioned according to the requirements of individual departments, with the high performance machines starting off in the more processor-intensive departments such as CAD. As they get older and become less able to cope with the constantly increasing needs of high-end design software, they filter down to other departments that require less power. This resource management strategy has resulted in the group still being able to deploy 10 year old 386 computers in terminal emulation roles.

One of Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd's primary requirements for its IT infrastructure is flexibility. With temporary offices being set up at each new project site, it is imperative that the IT department can get the required computers set up at short notice. Using desktops means that work can begin on-site before any network connections are in place if necessary - something that wouldn't be possible if they were using a thin-client solution.

Technical support manager, Neil Davey explains: "We have to be reactive as we often have to work to tight time scales in order to get a new site up and running. Deploying pre-configured desktops, either standalone or on a LAN, gives our sites and regional offices the capability to function in an independent environment [which is] not totally reliant on services provided by head office.

"Thin Client technology, such as CITRIX, is getting much better and we are looking seriously at the potential use within our industry. But there are still expensive bandwidth issues to deal with to really allow this technology to take off."

Using desktops means that although the sites can function independently, they can be connected via ISDN to the group's WAN once the necessary links are established. Such an infrastructure requires efficient maintenance and management to ensure that it performs to its full capability.

The Sir Robert McAlpine group employs a policy of broad-term centralisation in managing its PC resources. As and when required (usually at the end of a project), computers are returned to a central location operated by an external company. Here they can receive the necessary hardware and software upgrades to ensure they fulfill their allotted roles efficiently.

Their choice of vendor had to complement this lifespan-maximising policy. After-sales support and build quality are always going to be influential when buying hardware and Davey was particularly impressed by the fact that Gateway used reliable components from well-known manufacturers within their desktop machines. PC vendors must be able to speedily adapt to a constantly changing market and also be adaptable to their customers' needs. Davey felt that Gateway had fulfilled these criteria admirably for Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd.

This was last published in July 1999

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