Networking the mining boom

Networking the mining boom

The well-documented mining boom has carried the national economy across turbulent waters in recent times. But it would not be sailing so smoothly without the support of state-of-the-art IT networks.

If the Australian economy used to be carried on the sheep's back, it's now sailing a swelling commodities wave. Demand from vastly populous Asian countries like Japan, China and India for the things we grow on our farms, dig up from under the red-brown earth and extract from the depths of the sea has jammed traffic outside national ports as ships queue up to carry our commodities north. Coking coal, iron ore, thermal coal, nickel, copper, uranium, wheat, lead, you name it and we're probably shipping it in large numbers.

The boom has allowed Australia to largely sail around the economic gloom seeping out of the US and also steered the Aussie dollar to 25-year highs against the greenback. In fact, Australia's $1 trillion economy has outperformed most of its industrialised counterparts and with resource companies like Rio Tinto Group and BHP Billiton snapping up the available human talent to man the ship the unemployment rate is at its lowest in 30 years. We are, it is fair to say, tacking nicely on the commodities high seas.

As a result a new breed has catapulted to the top of the wealth stakes; Fortescue Metals Group boss, Andrew Forrest, topped a recent BRW list as the richest Australian ever with a net worth of $9.4 billion. And as commodity prices experience sustained increases - more than two-fold since 2000 according to the Reserve Bank of Australia - mineral exploration has continued to hit record levels. More than $1.2 billion was spent in 2005/06 to look for resources, the highest amount in three decades and a 94 per cent increase on 2001/02 according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. But because much of this exploration and extraction has occurred in remote and difficult terrain combined with the pressure cooker atmosphere of global trade, resource companies have needed state-of-the-art IT networks to preclude boarding a leaky commodities ship.

Unearthing networking technology

"Networks have always played a critical role in the mining sector," IDC market analyst network technologies, Jamie Jin, said. "But we are seeing more focus on the network as mining companies look to capitalise on next-generation networking technologies to gain further efficiencies in their product delivery cycle and automation of work tasks."

And as the boom appears far from over Jin believes resource companies will spend more on IT to expand the network infrastructure and deploy the latest technologies to keep the business competitive in the global market.

Australia's overall network statistics, according to IDC, reveal consistent growth over the past few years with an 18 per cent increase in the total switch and router market and a 23 per cent rise in the WLAN market in 2007 on the previous year; switch revenue hit $US573.3 million, router revenue $US339.5 million and the WLAN revenue $US136.73 million.

Networking players have noted resource companies are prepared to spend to acquire top shelf IT networks for their mines and assets.

"We're actually doing a lot of work in that vertical and I guess with the resources boom there is a lot of budget floating around," Raritan director of sales A/NZ, Gary Hull, acknowledged. With money to spend and the threat of huge opportunity loss through downtime always looming - having a ship in dry dock for example can cost a resource company close to $3 million a day according to Hull - the mining industry has revamped much of its communications and IT infrastructure.

Significantly, many resource companies have deployed self-funded fibre in order to gain additional capacity to shift to converged voice, video and data networking.

"In terms of interest right now obviously mining is pushing the industry," RAD Australia managing director, Udi Furman, claimed. "So we are getting much more interest and requests from the mining companies."

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