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Dubai-based Aramex optimises branch office connectivity

How global logistics firm streamlined its branch office operations in the Middle East

Dubai-based Aramex, a global provider of logistics and transportation services, has evolved into a global brand in the three decades since it was founded in 1982.

It is a publicly traded company on the Dubai Financial Market and employs more than 17,000 people in 575 locations across 70 countries. The company also leads a network of partners that provides a global presence and brings together 40 independent express companies from around the world.

Its services include logistics, international and domestic express delivery, freight forwarding, secure records and information management. Its e-services include e-business solutions.

In recent years, Aramex has steadily expanded its geographic and business footprint, and each new site has brought familiar challenges: a lengthy network installation and configuration process coupled with a tedious mapping-out of which routes would be best for the new office.

To overcome these challenges and the high volumes of data being transferred and shared across its network, as well as meeting the growing need for increased agility, Aramex chose to optimise its network connectivity, and virtualisation featured heavily on its agenda.

Ramzy Masarweh, corporate IT manager at Aramex, said the company had recently scaled up its branch office performance and connectivity by implementing the Silver Peak SD-WAN, a virtualised environment that was cost-effective for smaller and remote offices.

The high cost and limited capacity of WAN connectivity at some remote sites was restricting the business, said Masarweh. “Silver Peak’s Unity EdgeConnect SD-WAN has delivered reliable performance and automation at remote sites, freeing us up to open the doors to more locations now and in the future,” he added.

He said the Silver Peak system automated manual and time-consuming processes while delivering greater control. “With our Beirut office, for example, we were experiencing a round trip time of 300 milliseconds for certain applications, which Unity EdgeConnect has brought down to 140 milliseconds,” he added.

Over the years, said Masarweh, Aramex’s IT team had gained the business owners’ trust to proceed with any projects they saw fit, making daily operations run very smoothly. “Our IT team, up to a certain level, adopts the IT-driven business model,” he said. “What this means is that, in most cases, we are able to implement solutions before the business even starts asking for them. I believe getting the business buy-in for any IT project we undertake is critical for the success of the project and the business.”

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As corporate IT manager, Masarweh is charged with managing the organisation’s key datacentres across Jordan, the UK, South Africa, the UAE and India, with a new one planned in Singapore.

And although the influence of IT managers, directors and CIOs has been diminishing, Aramex is an example of how corporate IT manager or director roles in the Middle East are changing, transforming expectations of what an IT department can contribute to an organisation’s business goals.

Masarweh said the starting point for any project Aramex undertakes is the proof of concept (PoC), which also involves input from the business owners.

In the case of Silver Peak’s Unity EdgeConnect SD-WAN, Aramex started with the PoC between March and April 2016, and it was quickly accepted. “An order was placed for 20 appliances in May and another 20 in July,” said Masarweh. The appliances are currently being implemented on a needs basis, where the system’s replication and bandwidth compression are required.

“Internally, we are studying the possibility of replacing all VPN concentrators globally in 2017, and we are working closely with our Silver Peak account manager to familiarise him with our needs to help us achieve this with the upcoming new releases from Silver Peak,” said Masarweh.

IT security is another big challenge for the company, he said. “IT security comes at the forefront of every new project we initiate at Aramex. Securing the data, network and the physical premises is always at the top of our list of priorities.

“Our IT security team is extremely aware, and is up to date with new trends. Frequent vulnerability scans are run all over the network, internally and externally, to make sure we are consistently secure and free of threat from potential attacks.”

Improved connectivity

Masarweh said that after the Silver Peak Unity EdgeConnect SD-WAN was implemented, branch office connectivity and operations improved considerably, helping to support the company’s expansion plans.

Virtualisation was one of the major implementations at Aramex and it has had a huge impact on the company’s business operations and expansion plans, he added. “Our current server infrastructure is 90% virtualised and we are moving towards 100% virtualisation. We started our journey with VMware almost five years ago, beginning with version 4.1 and moving up to the current latest version 6.

“Virtualisation improved our services and speeded up our implementations as a whole – be it the process of testing, staging or going live. We were able to raise our service level agreements massively to the business owners. And, of course, we saw benefits similar to the ones most enterprises have seen: savings in time and cost, and a greatly reduced procurement process.”

Like most organisations in the Middle East, Aramex is harnessing cloud computing and has already begun to see its benefits.

The company has been running SAP development servers within Virtustream public cloud for almost a year, and plans to go live with production servers in Virtustream this year. “Also, the team has already started the integration with Microsoft Office 365 and is studying the ability to migrate our emails smoothly,” said Masarweh.

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