Security and trust are essential in communication terms, especially when it comes to government business. Dr Saeed Al Dhaheri, Advisor, Information Systems, United Arab Emirates Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was all too aware of the need to modernise his department's communications channels, and embarked on an eight month implementation of a secure global data network (WAN) in February 2012, that placed these concepts at the fore of his strategy.
MoFA set out with the aim of implementing the WAN in its head office in Abu Dhabi, and across 72 UAE embassies abroad--including those in the US, China and Japan--as well as a 24/7 centralised service desk that would continuously support it. Achieving secure voice, video and data communication was the goal, with the subsequent effect of reduced operational costs a welcome bonus.
A key part of the project was the implementation of a LAN in each mission, and to install desktop PCs connected with IP phones and a setup of video conference equipment at each site.
"The decision to implement the WAN was a gradual one," Al Dhaheri says. "There was no secure communication channel for MOFA, so there was a necessity for it in the UAE. It was a dominant trend in advanced European MOFAs, and it has enabled us to reduce operational costs, and conduct secure diplomatic business."
Before beginning the implementation, Al Dhaheri and his team visited some of Europe's MoFAs to gain insights into SLAs on similar projects. Following the trip, MoFA opted to partner with local telecom operators Etisalat for the WAN. As part of the vendor evaluation process, a proof of concept was run for two weeks connecting various identified embassies.
The infrastructure that has been implemented provides encrypted communication over a hybrid mix between MPLS and satellite communication (V-SAT). The Cisco IP telephony network of MoFA was extended to the embassies so that each remote embassy site was considered an extension of the head office network, eliminating the high-cost of long distance calling charges.
V-SAT was used in 16 countries; in those with weaker land communication infrastructure, while MPLS was used in countries with stronger telecom infrastructure. Bandwidth connections were chosen between 1-2 Mbps depending on the embassy connectivity needs with the head office, and are scalable as future needs change.
The implementation achieved its first major goal--to slash the cost of international calls to other UAE embassies by 50 percent. Since the project became operational in October 2012, over 5,000 calls have been made on the IP-based telephony component of the project, and this has saved MoFA over $240,000. It has eliminated the need for legacy encrypted fax systems that were used to transmit confidential information, and now uses the secure and encrypted email on the Global WAN network, which has resulted in a saving of around $70,000 per year. Furthermore, the video conference component of the project has evolved the way MoFA conducts its business with other embassies. Having experienced 600 sessions since it was introduced in October 2012, the VC system has saved over $50,000, and 3-5 business days in travel time per conference.
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