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.

Digging it 24/7

But the mining game is not easy. To survive, both in a physical and trade sense, the colossal machines built to operate in mines have to be tough and the employees willing to put in the hard yakka. The appetite of emerging economies will not be sated by intermittent and unreliable supply. Consequently resource companies' IT networks also face the same expectations of resiliency and robustness.

"The criticality of having IT infrastructure and assets operational 24/7 and having a gateway to get to those assets I guess across that sector is a hot area," Hull said.

In many cases constant network availability is demanded; some players even claimed they had been asked for less than five minutes downtime a year. To achieve this, non-stop routing and virtualisation have been key technologies deployed to enable patching and maintenance to occur in the datacentre without systems going down.

"I think the concerns of the mining industry are not necessarily any different from other industries," Nortel product and solutions marketing Asia, Adam Kleemeyer, said. "They want networks that are resilient basically because they are 24 by 7 operations, so they don't want network downtime. And often mining is in remote locations but it could take time to get their parts or someone out there. So they want a network that doesn't break."

While these remote mining locations invoke images of beehive activity in desolate waste, the terrain itself does not pose significant challenges for the network. But the distance between where a user accesses the network and where the data is housed can.

"The push from the business to have systems always available no matter where they are, no matter who they are, is a real key thing," Juniper senior systems engineer, Richard Savage, said.

And as many resource companies have expanded through mergers and acquisitions they have centralised their operations with large datacentres located in the US and Europe being employed.

"What that means is that they have a real challenge because they are global companies but in the most extreme sense they could have people in the field in Latin America, in the Middle East to the middle of the WA desert," Savage said. "So the need to get access to those applications which are now potentially on the other side of the world is a real challenge in terms of delivery, access and those kinds of things."

To get applications across the network faster and reduce latency, WAN acceleration is often utilised. If you are physically in Perth and accessing something in Houston, for example, that distance can't be overcome by throwing bandwidth at the problem, Savage said.

"We have to look at ways to actually accelerate the application. So it is allowing these guys to reach across potentially low speed links, maybe even not necessarily reliable links, and provision access in a good way and monitor what is going on."

Moreover, provisioning access to the network in a secure and timely manner for the countless contractors that work the mines at distributed locations through access control technology is also key to reducing operational costs and improving efficiency.

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