Building the net with PCL

While investment in ICT is widely viewed as one of the key drivers of innovation and productivity, a number of inhibitors  place IT update on hold in many businesses. Budgetary constraint, decentralized decision-making, lack of time and staff bandwidth, as well as a determination to leverage existing infrastructure may all play a role in an organization’s deferral of investment in technology that under the right circumstances could provide competitive advantage. It is InsightaaS.com’s belief that hesitation also stems from a lack of familiarity with the art of the possible - with the how and why of IT implementation. To provide some vision around the mechanics of IT adoption, InsightaaS.com develops case studies outlining the business case, implementation processes and the outcome of technology deployment in real-world businesses. In this example, we look at how networking contributes to business success at PCL Constructors.

PCL - a background check

The largest contracting organization in Canada, Edmonton-based PCL Constructors offers building, industrial and civil infrastructure services through over 30 independent construction companies operating in Canada, the U.S., Australia and the Caribbean.

IT at PCL is highly decentralized, with infrastructure situated at company locations and job sites and enterprise processing at the company’s main campus in Edmonton. In this set up, communications and networking play a vital role in business operations. However, PCL’s main campus data centre facilities and networking switches had come to end of life over time, described by Colin Roberts, manager, infrastructure services at PCL, as "getting long in the tooth." Switches were 1 gigabyte carrier class - serviceable in their time, but beginning to experience stability issues, and as Nortel gear, no longer supportable.

Colin Roberts, manager, infrastructure services, PCL
Colin Roberts, manager, infrastructure services, PCL

At the same time, PCL had developed plans to take greater advantage of its data resources and applications in initiatives such as the consolidation of BIM and project management applications and the deployment of a new data processing platform in finance/HR which would entail more east-west network traffic. In support of these activities, PCL decided to expand its facilities, and upgrade to "newer, fatter pipes" that would enable a shift to next generation technologies. In Roberts’ view, increased speed in the data centre would enhance productivity in the field, and with 10 gigabyte capacity, the company would be future proofed against growing network requirements.

Solution sourcing

In assessing various solution offerings, PCL did due diligence, including the review of the leading networking equipment providers and their technology capabilities.  "We ran some numbers," Roberts explained, and "put out an RFP" in November 2010. Ultimately, the company opted for its existing business partner, HP for its product capabilities, but also for what HP "stood for." While PCL typically adopts a best-of-breed approach in sourcing IT - "we try to get value for PCL as well as technical value," Roberts added - the company had leveraged HP servers, desktops and laptops for many years, so purchase of HP networking would provide a "good blend and get these [servers] on the HP backbone as well." A January 2011 decision for HP was based in large part on this technical consideration, through Roberts noted that a number of PCL group presidents were pleased that the infrastructure group had decided to buy from an existing partner.

The new network

PCL implemented HP’s 12518 Switch Series in full rack chassis that offered the potential for the addition of 16 more expansion cards in the unit, as well as the HP 5500 Switch Series as top-of-rack switches for its campus network and district offices. The company also integrated HP’s Intelligent Resilient Framework (IRF) virtualization technology, which Roberts claimed was key to PCL’s ability to deploy new services: "by virtualizing a set of top-of-rack switches, these could be treated as a single entity. When we laid out our switches, servers and other infrastructure in the new data centre facilities, we were able to logically group these things [switches] together, and take advantage of IRF features to keep traffic in chunks in different areas. This IRF capability really makes the lives of our data centre and networking staff easier." Abstraction at the network level would also ease any reconfiguration that became necessary. According to Roberts, "our network guys are now very comfortable with the IRF technology now and it’s a staple in what we do."

In implementing its new networking solution, PCL worked with Compugen and HP’s Technical Services group. This work began with architectural design sessions to identify the equipment models that would be required, followed by execution on plan, which included extensive testing to determine, among other things, if existing components would work on the new networking gear. PCL achieved its September ‘go live’ date - moving from purchase decision to development of the 10 gigabyte environment in just under a year. Towards the end of 2012, PCL began its migration to expanded data centre facilities and expects to move its main routing off old core switches to HP switches in the new building in the next several weeks.

Benefits

Assessing the implementation process, Roberts advised companies that may be considering a similar upgrade, "It’s bigger than you think it is." However, in PCL’s case, stability issues with the old networking equipment and a determination to make better use of shared project data left the company with no alternative but to build out new capabilities. As a result, PCL has not calculated ROI on the networking implementation, but has already experienced increased speed and stability, enhanced management of networking infrastructure, and is beginning to explore the new equipment potential: "We’re starting to dig into all the features, all the things that HP delivers in their networking products. So we’re looking forward to seeing what is there, and what the future path is for HP’s networking," Roberts concluded.

 

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