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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.

Living quarters

But a mine is never just a mine. It always has a wide array of transport, administrative and residential facilities sprawling nearby for the workers. And like any other worker - or perhaps more so because of their isolation - mining industry employees want access to networks and the comforts of home like Internet, phone and TV.

"When you look at a mine site it's like a small city, or let's say a suburb," RAD's Furman explained. "Because today you have a factory, you have people that intend to live there for a week or a weekend and so forth. So they need to get services; data services, voice services, maybe television, some other mobile and so on."

Losing touch with family, friends and what the rest of the country is doing, it seems, could result in poor motivation and productivity - or a case of cabin fever. As a result networking companies have also been able to capitalise on the mounting residential requirements adjoining many mine sites.

"Every mine site is like a new network; even though they can be similar they are all different," Furman said. "If it is a new one you will have new technologies, if it is an existing one you will have a mix of old and new and so on. If you would like to classify it as easy or not easy maybe the new sites are easier because they are going to invest from scratch with new equipment, which means they are going to use up-to-date technology."

But while the mining industry does demand high quality networks and service, they are not necessarily any different from other industries.

"I wouldn't say they are out in front, I would say they are with other organisations that are looking for the best possible solutions," Nortel's Kleemeyer said.

"In no way are mining companies saying they are settling for anything less than the latest and greatest type of technology. But they are up there with the other leading types of industries that are looking for the best solutions."

Exporting mining lessons

There are several lessons that can be drawn from the networking experience in Australia's commodities boom for channel partners looking to get a berth. Indeed, IDC's Jin pointed out lessons from the mining sector can be applied to other verticals and in the same way solutions from other verticals also can be deployed in the mining sector. As an example he highlighted real-time information collection and video surveillance as two technologies that are regularly used across different verticals.

Nortel's Kleemeyer identified government, education and financial institutions as sectors commonly interested in the solutions deployed in the mining industry.

"What I am seeing in the market as we move forward is the differentiation in expectations between different industry types is becoming fewer and fewer," he said. "These sorts of requirements around performance and resiliency are becoming more and more universal. And it's not just from a vertical perspective but it's also from a size perspective. We're finding that just because an organisation is small it doesn't necessarily mean their expectations upon the network are any different from a large organisation."

In fact, for the most part the same challenges and expectations found in the mining industry have been around for years in other markets. But due to the impressive scope of networks deployed by resource operations and the high-risk nature of network failure inherent in a 24/7 industry, the channel should take note.

"From a channels perspective, looking at mining and identifying and recognising the trends that are there and what they are doing to address them can help them [integrators] then engage with other clients they are dealing with, maybe on a slightly lesser or smaller scale," Juniper's Savage said.

Indeed, the Australian resources sector has not achieved its soaring success by accepting anything less than the best networks, products and service from its IT partners.

"Since those people are in the market for so many years and are so remote you have to have quality products," RAD's Furman said.

"So for them if the difference is a couple of dollars on a product it is not a big issue because they want to send it once, turn it on and leave it there for a couple of years. And that is sometimes the difference between products on the market."

Without demanding the best networks available to support commodity export operations, it is arguable the national economy would not be sailing so smoothly.


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