Building Cork’s centre of IT excellence

13 Nov 2002

The National Software Centre in Cork has deployed a converged IP voice and data network to offer high-tech businesses the latest communications technology.

When planning a business premises these days, a lot of thought must go into the communications infrastructure. In most cases, this involves planning two networks, one for voice, in the form of a PBX (private branch exchange) telephone system, and a data network.

One organisation that went down a different route is the National Software Centre (NSC) in Cork. Born out of a series of public meetings between Cork City Council and the IT industry to ascertain the underlying issues and concerns of the sector in the region, the NSC campus was a direct reply to one of the main issues raised at these meetings: the need for a physical building that would go towards making Cork a centre of IT excellence. The project is a privately-led venture via a public private partnership. The partnership includes members of the software industry (it@cork), Cork City Council, Enterprise Ireland, Cork Business Innovation Centre (BIC) and the Bank of Scotland.

According to Michael O’Connor of Cork BIC, the centre opened in January of this year and is now home to 150 people working for 29 different companies. The range of companies goes from small start-ups to multinational organisations such as Horizon and Gartner Group. As it stands, the building is only half full and it is intended that the campus will eventually provide half a million square feet of space, with eight additional buildings.

Aside from the office space, the campus is designed to provide a wide range of services. As well as networking, these include hosting services, conference rooms, intellectual property advice and consultancy from Cork BIC. For those looking for funding, two venture capitalists are also on site.

O’Connor said that they had several reasons for opting for the integrated solution from Nortel Networks. “First of all, we needed a unified, high-performance switch which would be very reliable. Secondly, we needed something that would prove adaptable with minimal wiring. The set-up here is changing on average twice a week and we needed something that was easy to control and modify,” he said. “The fact that Nortel has had a long Irish presence was also a factor in the decision. Its IP (internet protocol) telephony centre is based in Galway and if we did have a problem, we wouldn’t have far to go. We found that they had a good track record in voice telephony and had a non-obsolescence guarantee on equipment,” O’Connor said.

“The centre is constantly growing and the network needs to be able to scale upwards. In addition, it has to handle a huge variety of tasks,” he added. To give some flavour of the kind of workload the network has to deal with, O’Connor cited 35 different virtual LANs (local area networks), each of which cannot see the other, corporate networks for the likes of Horizon and Gartner, hosting services and people using VPNs (virtual private networks) in and out of the campus.

On top of all this, the network has to handle voice data. IP telephony has been around for a while, but has long suffered from the reputation of providing poor call quality. O’Connor said that quality has never been a problem and indeed our telephone conversation with him bore out this assertion.

According to Barry Dillon, Nortel’s business manager for Enterprise Solutions, Nortel has put a lot of research and development into replicating the quality of a PBX system over IP. The key, said Dillon, is absolutely guaranteeing the throughput of voice packets. Voice packets are prioritised on the network, even when data traffic is busy.

However, IP telephony is not just there for the sake of it. Dillon says that the key selling points of the unified system include the fact that on a greenfield location, it greatly reduces the amount of wiring needed, by as much as 30pc. Also, the ongoing cost of ownership is less, since it is far easier to install new phone locations and move existing ones. Finally, one infrastructure rather than two makes for easier management.

Those behind the NSC initiative have the stated objective of establishing Cork as the preferred location outside Dublin for IT inward investment. Given the sheer level of activity at the NSC campus and its ambitious plans to become one of the country’s key IT clusters, there is no doubting that this network ought to be put through its paces over the coming months and years.

Pictured above at the NSC building, Mahon, Cork are Shemas Eivers, chairman NSC Campus, Teddy McCarthy, technical director, Client Solutions and Michael O’Connor, CEO

By Dick O’Brien