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CONSTRUCTING A £12
MILLION NETWORK

When Hanson needed to co-ordinate 465 operations, it turned to MiTech.

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index.jpg Hanson plc is one of the world’s leading heavy business materials companies, employing over 27,000 people in 14 countries globally. It supplies millions of tonnes of building materials to thousands of customers each year in the UK.

The company has to co-ordinate its UK operations across 465 sites – sales offices, quarries and plants - to ensure that materials are delivered on time and to customer specifications. IT therefore plays a critical role in facilitating the flow of information from customer sales through to on site delivery.

In late 2004, Hanson UK made the decision to upgrade its network infrastructure which would allow it to scale with business growth and improve performance. It wanted to move to a single converged voice & data network connecting 465 sites. The project had to run to an extremely aggressive timescale of three months in order to facilitate further a second major project, the consolidation of two data centres into one. To handle a project of this size and complexity Hanson called on the UK’s premier network construction experts, MiTech.

MiSpace, the managed services division of MiTech, had already completed a 52 site WAN implementation for Hanson Building Projects. This gave MiSpace a unique insight into the challenges involved in installing hardware and connecting services to sites that were often very remote.

“MiSpace and MiTech had previously successfully completed a similar smaller scale project for Hanson Building Products and we had built up a good professional rapport,” said Simon Lewis, Director of IT, European Infrastructure, for Hanson. “But what really secured the business was their attention to detail on every aspect of the implementation. They presented a comprehensive roll out plan, covering every aspect of deploying a complex network infrastructure in diverse operating environments, which gave us complete confidence in their ability to project manage the implementation.”

Simon continued: “The aim was to find a supplier who had an awareness of the product, a good product portfolio and roadmap, and could provide us with a flexible and scalable solution, but the key factor in this entire project was managing to implement the network within our timeframe. The benefit for Hanson is that MiTech are a key partner for BT, they get better discounts from BT, and we expect our piece of the cake in terms of that so we haven’t paid over the odds. Subsequently, we’ve got a very effective infrastructure which is costing us significantly less than the combined cost of our previous networks which had been designed on a shoestring.”

A further reason for selecting MiSpace was its ability to work in partnership with Hanson. Previously, Hanson Aggregates had outsourced its WAN in its entirety to a third-party. However, having to go through a third-party to make changes or additions to the network took longer than anticipated and Hanson felt it lacked complete control over how its WAN was managed.

Alternative Solution
MiSpace offered an alternative solution. It based the network design on BT IP Clear circuits. BT IP Clear is an unbundled VPN service – meaning the required routers are not included in the leased line costs. Hanson asked MiSpace to select the appropriate router and voice gateway solutions instead. This would give the Hanson IT team control over a key part of the infrastructure. Hanson was keen to go down this route as it wanted to move to an insourced managed solution.

Simon commented: “The technology is always key, particularly within Hanson where we have such diverse operational environments. We have a number of different business divisions who all have different demands on the network and what they want from IT, therefore the flexibility and scalability of the solution is of key importance.

“That’s where the MPLS product really does come into its own, because we can provide a resilient structure configured to the individual business requirements, that we can then support internally.”

This meant that the Hanson IT team would provide first line support for IT problems, with MiSpace taking over for second and third line support calls and the management of the IP Clear service. This insourced solution gives Hanson all the benefits of a managed service, including having on-tap support of specialist networking engineers, whilst at the same time retaining knowledge and skills in-house.

“The benefit of having a managed service is that we know we’ve got someone watching over our network, whilst we are also proactively monitoring the network to have first line support visibility. We use a host of different tools to manage and monitor the network, with the added benefit of having access to all our network resources. This affords Hanson the control to determine how our network is shaped and utilised,” Simon adds.

The final network design included BT IP Clear circuits, Cisco routers and a Mitel voice gateway solution. Each element of the network was pre-staged at MiTech’s High Wycombe Technical Labs to ensure it could be seamlessly deployed with minimal disruption and that there were no inter-operability issues. Four hundred and sixty five routers were pre-configured to effectively be ready to ‘plug and play’.

The decision to use BT IP Clear as the core network service was also influenced by the need to provide the highest levels of resiliency. Many of Hanson’s 465 sites are in remote locations and can be difficult to reach. To ensure full redundancy however, MiSpace has a dedicated dial-up link to the most remote of the on-site Cisco routers and can remotely carry out hardware configurations.

Ahead of Deadline
Thanks to the strength of the design, in-depth planning and pre-staging, the project was delivered one week ahead of the deadline. This was a major achievement given the scope of the project and the timeframe.

The WAN has had zero downtime since implementation. The number of internal support calls has also significantly decreased to near zero. As part of its ongoing support, MiTech also provides a proactive 24/7/365 monitoring service and undertakes regular network ‘health checks’ so that it can spot potential problems before they occur.

This has freed up the Hanson IT team to focus more time on strategic IT projects. Simon comments: “It’s not a customer/supplier relationship, it’s a partnership, so it really is key that MiTech have a thorough understanding of our business and the associated processes. We have worked collectively to gain a position where MiTech acts as an extension of our own IT team, with the back up of BT behind them.”

The WAN will achieve a Return on Investment within four years – one year faster than initially projected. Running a single converged voice & data network has also enabled Hanson to streamline management, reduce maintenance costs and call charges between sites have been eliminated as voice traffic effectively ‘rides for free’ over the data network. As it is IP based, rolling out new IT services and applications, adding new sites or bringing acquired business online is extremely straightforward and would require minimal additional capital outlay.

Perhaps the most significant achievement, however, was the successful management of the project – one of the largest and fastest roll outs of its kind in the UK. As Simon concludes: “The key factor in this entire project was managing to implement the network within our timeframe. A high proportion of our business is seasonal so as soon as we go into that busy period we’ve got a very limited timeframe to complete any major projects. If the project had experienced a delay of a few weeks, all our various business and IT projects would have suffered by seven or eight months so it really was critical to achieve the deadline.

“MiSpace managed to achieve our objectives from day one, including meeting our very tight time scales and delivering on budget. Any issues were resolved promptly and the support we have received has been very good indeed, with the network working perfectly.” CT-E

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