A R40 million IT overhaul

BAE Systems and Think IT have just completed a total overhaul of BAE’s IT systems. Here’s why.

2 December 2009
Abri du Plessis says the local company wanted to take advantage of the overhaul.

BAE Systems is a global organisation engaged in the development, delivery and support of advanced defence, security and aerospace systems in the air, on land and at sea.

The South African arm of BAE Systems was bought out in 2004, and became part of the global group. Following the deal, funds where made available for it to upgrade its local IT infrastructure to bring it in line with the rest of the group.

The initial journey, says group IT manager Abri du Plessis, involved getting a base platform in place. This meant integrating all three South African sites, and getting them onto the same network, operating system, mail platforms and connectivity.

“Two projects were started,” he says (noting that he only joined the team in November last year, after this had happened). “The one involved rolling out connectivity through an MPLS WAN via a Telkom line, contracted by BT, to the centre in the UK. This was done by CSC, the company’s IT partner in the UK.

The second project involved its IT platform. “IT started architecturing a solution for us, and then presented it to the guys in the UK for approval in terms of the security, architecture and platform going forward. With some negotiations, the architecture was finalised,” he says. “Then the processes here started. We tried to use the opportunity to take a giant leap ahead in terms of technology, to get onto a platform and technology that would take us forward over the next three to five years, bearing in mind that we’re a growing company and we also need to be able to add to it at any point.

“If you look at the base technology (the network, which is Cisco layer 3 switching), it provides a good way of building security into the network. Add to that Cisco IP Telephony so we can make IP calls between the three sites and take advantage of other functionality like unified communications. In the server room we looked at server, storage, application and desktop virtualisation.

This all gives us a lot of flexibility in terms of how we take the business forward, keeping in mind the technology roadmap is put in place by BAE worldwide,” he comments.

The final deal included the implementation of: Server, desktop and application virtualisation at all three offices, installation of an EMC storage and ILM solution, installation of advanced switching infrastructure, IP telephony, secure wireless networking, Cisco Unified Video, storage for BAE’s ERP system, full back-up and data recovery over all three branches, a ‘broadlink’ network with data and voice capabilities and setting up a Cisco Telepresence facility in the Pretoria office. A support deal, in terms of which Think IT will provide 24/7 support for the next three years, has also been signed.

Of the three BAE sites in South Africa, at time of writing (early November), one (in Pretoria) had been transformed and migrated, with the other two were due to be completed by the end of November. “This will give us one unified IT system, with all three sites connected to each other,” says Du Plessis. “This means we can replicate one to another, connect to the DR site, call one to another and get connected to the [global] BAE network, where we can get the advantages of collaborating on the website and gaining access to the latest information published worldwide.”

Once the current platform is done, BAE will take a look at its internal IT service delivery platform. “This is the softer side,” he says. “The harder side has been put in place by Think IT here and CSC in the UK.”

BAE is also busy with a few other projects, such as its Cisco Telepresence implementation (which, once live, will apparently be the first commercial installation on the continent). “Being a company with worldwide locations, it makes sense in terms of money saved by not paying for flights and the ability to set up meetings quickly without having to disrupt people’s personal lives, etc.”

BAE is installing a CTS3200 system, which can seat 14 people. “This way we can have big reviews and meetings with our head office in Houston,” he notes.

Think IT head Louis Botha says the Telepresence system, which was mandated by BAE head office, is being tested by Cisco and Dimension Data. “Due to the bandwidth issues, and the distance [between here and Houston, 14 506km], we’ve had to have assessments and testing done. “This should [have been] be complete by the end of November.”

Other projects on the go include Sharepoint and Office Communicator implementations, which Du Plessis says will enhance communications between the overseas and local sites.

Du Plessis says the company is also busy aligning the business with ITIL principles, and that training is underway at present.

The challenges at the moment, he says, is to get ThinkIT, CSC and internal IT all aligned and pulling in the right direction. “So far, so good,” he adds, noting that there have been little bits of politics here and there.

BAE, says Botha, is moving from a reactive state of operations (IT-wise) to a structured, managed environment where everything that needs doing can be done from the data centre. “Although there’s been a huge upfront cost, BAE is aligning itself with current trends and paving the way for the future.”