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Tunnelling in the Cloud

By [email protected] - 4th January 2014 - 16:30

Team BFK needed an IT infrastructure that was good to go within weeks of being awarded a major tunnelling contract by Crossrail. A cloud-based solution from Fordway provided the answer

Team BFK (is a joint venture between three of the world’s leading tunnelling, civil engineering and construction companies: BAM Nuttall Ltd, Ferrovial Agroman and Kier Construction Ltd.

In 2011 Crossrail awarded team BFK three contracts valued in the region of £700m+. One is for two 6.4km tunnel drives between Royal Oak and Farringdon – one of the most significant tunnel contracts in the UK since the Jubilee Line extension and Channel Tunnel Rail Link. The others are for construction of early access shafts and sprayed concrete lining works for Bond Street and Tottenham Court Road station tunnels and the main construction works for the new Crossrail station at Farringdon.

When Team BFK was awarded the contracts, the joint venture companies had to set up a project office, develop the project infrastructure and assemble a team in a few months. They decided it would be best to create an independent IT infrastructure, rather than using that of one of the three participating companies.

Outsourcing IT management

“We also thought the project would be best served by outsourcing management of the IT to a reputable company,” explained Steve Shepherd, head of ICT services at BAM Nuttall. Steve is responsible for ensuring that the project has adequate ICT services for successful completion and for providing IT guidance as required. “So we developed a public tender for an infrastructure to support the main project site at Westbourne Park and several satellite sites.”

“IT plays a vital role in every aspect of a complex civil engineering project,” added Geoff Bull, BFK quality manager, who is based at the main project site at Westbourne Park. “Everything we do involves either communications or data storage, from working with our subcontractors, partners and Crossrail to the biometric site access management systems which we run through the network. As well as the typical office applications, we have applications such as AutoCAD for technical drawings, our planning and mapping software and our phone systems. Our IT system has to be extremely robust to support the tunnelling operation.”

The project required a complete IT infrastructure linking the main project site and several satellite sites, with robust business continuity/disaster recovery. The supplier was also required to configure all PCs and laptops for project staff and provide comprehensive user support, including a daily onsite IT presence, roving support to the satellite sites and a 24x7 helpdesk to support the tunnelling operation and 150 staff.

“We were happy to deliver the solution specified in our tender response, which included providing server capability and data storage at the Westbourne Park site,” explained Richard Blanford, managing director of Fordway, based in Godalming, Surrey, UK.

“However, we suggested an alternative which would reduce the time required to set up the project infrastructure and also provide an improved recovery solution – a cloud-based solution using our own infrastructure in two UK data centres to provide storage and back-up respectively. Team BFK, quickly evaluated it and decided that it provided a good solution to their needs.”

Design and deploy in four weeks

Fordway’s project team had just four weeks to produce a detailed design and deploy a tailored cloud-based infrastructure, including a fully managed and hosted recovery solution and all client devices.

The solution uses VMware server virtualisation to manage data storage. Fordway supplied all the software up to the operating system and email, and set up email archiving, spam filtering and an antivirus system.

Fordway is responsible for all back-ups and replicating the whole environment. They provide a ‘warm standby’ recovery service, and in the event of a problem can bring all systems back online within 30 minutes to two hours. They also ran a recovery workshop for Team BFK and have helped them put together their business continuity and disaster recovery plan, including a test plan.

Team BFK considered renting user hardware and software, but after taking into account the length of the project (four years) and number of people involved they decided to buy the equipment. This will be fully depreciated by the end of the project. PCs and laptops were delivered directly to Fordway’s Godalming office. Fordway built a desktop image and replicated it across all machines, which were then delivered to temporary storage at Westbourne Park while the project offices were constructed.

The PCs were set up in parallel to the office furniture. “The furniture suppliers were putting desks together and the moment they finished each one Fordway put a PC on it and began completing the configuration!” said Geoff. “Fordway were very much part of the implementation and were there over the weekend ensuring everything was working before our staff arrived on Monday morning. We had 100 people turning up on day one who all received a new computer, a new email address, new software and guidance from the Fordway team on how to use everything.”

Tried-and-tested

Using the platform as a service solution was a key factor in getting the new infrastructure up and running quickly, and ensured that Team BFK was provided with a tried-and-tested solution. It is also easy to manage data growth and capacity planning.

The project team has already grown from the original 150 users to 240 and will continue to change as the BFK project develops. Fordway can add capacity as and when needed and then scale it back as the project draws to a close. Team BFK only pays for the capacity used, and can tailor it to suit their needs. The software is also provided using a scalable rental model. The project is scheduled to last four years, but there is a possibility to extend it and if this happens the IT service provided can simply be extended as needed.

Initially Team BFK planned to have servers and data storage at the main project office, but decided Fordway’s proposal of offsite servers and storage delivered a more robust recovery solution and provided a level of confidence that the IT will perform well in every location by taking away the reliance on the primary project office.

“If the servers and storage were located in the main project centre, we could have seen a degradation in performance at the satellite sites, but this solution means that they all experience the same level of performance,” explained Steve Shepherd.

Pre-configuring all the PCs and laptops ensured that every member of the project team started with the same IT desktop environment: Windows 7 and Office 2010. “The three companies all had different versions of the main office programmes, and Ferrovial used Lotus Notes, so this ensured a level playing field for everyone working on the project,” said Geoff. “It’s vital when moving documents around and ensures everyone can see each other’s calendars and schedule meetings electronically - all of which saves time and helps the project run more efficiently.”

Round the clock support

Fordway’s combination of onsite support and a 24 hour helpdesk ensure anyone working on the BFK contract can obtain IT support whenever they need it. Two members of staff are based at Westbourne Park. One starts early and one finishes late, thus ensuring both are available during peak working hours while providing extended onsite cover. Outside these hours Fordway’s 24 hour helpdesk handles any support requirements to ensure IT issues never delay the project.

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