Aughinish Alumina employs all-IP network


29 Jun 2011

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At Aughinish Alumina, innovation is a seam that runs through everything the company does, in a continuous drive to lower costs and increase yields. The switch to an all-IP network for unified communications (UC), voice and data will further boost competitiveness by bringing staff collaboration to the next level.

Based near Limerick, Aughinish Alumina is one of Ireland’s biggest innovation success stories, continually improving its chemical refining process to increase its levels of production. The company imports and refines the raw ore, bauxite, into alumina, which it exports to smelters – some as far away as Siberia – who convert the alumina to aluminium. Its location in Ireland means the company’s cost base, including shipping costs, are high, meaning it needs to continually drive greater efficiencies to stay competitive.

The IT function plays a vital role in delivering the supporting systems for operations at the plant, and most recently it recommended a switch to an all-IP enterprise network. IP is a prerequisite for unified communications, one of the most productivity-enhancing services now available, thanks to applications like presence and instant messaging; and IP also delivers significantly reduced telephone call costs.

New efficiencies thanks to IP from AirSpeed Telecom

For its move to IP, Aughinish Alumina chose AirSpeed Telecom, which previously provided the company’s 10Mb per second backup link. The reliability of the backup circuit prompted it to switch completely to licensed wireless, incorporating an IP voice and data platform which has let Aughinish Alumina phase out its wired telephony services altogether. The new, all-IP infrastructure is delivering a wealth of benefits:

Real-time collaboration with UC: The IP network is supporting the rollout of the Microsoft unified communications suite, including presence and instant messaging. An extensive UC trial at the plant has already significantly improved collaboration, and the company is eager to bring more employees on to improve communications and productivity. "UC replaces some of our in-person conferences, but it also gives us much better contact between our people on and off the plant, and between shifts," said Justus de Hooge, IS and IT manager for Aughinish Alumina.

"We monitor 40,000 values in our process and we have alarms which activate if certain parameters change. Presence will make it much easier for the operator in control to access the right engineer if conditions arise." The company is also using unified communications to support home working (especially for management who need to be on 24/7 standby) and to federate with suppliers like its IT partners, for applications such as instant messaging.

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Live failover delivers continuous availability: The IP network rests on a guaranteed platform incorporating automatic, live failover between the primary and backup AirSpeed Telecom circuits. This replaces a complex setup previously, which required the Aughinish Alumina team to manually activate the backup network. "The automatic failover works perfectly," Justus said. "It requires specialist expertise and technology to do automatic failover between circuits, which is why we are happy to outsource this to AirSpeed. We get the assurance of live failover without the complexity of using two suppliers, and we’re also paying less than we did before."

IP voice cuts call costs: A legacy PBX was no obstacle to delivering IP for Aughinish Alumina. Working in conjunction with the plant’s existing Siemens hub, AirSpeed Telecom has established media gateways to let the enterprise use IP telephony for all outgoing calls to the PSTN. This not only eliminates line rental and DDI charges, but also delivers lower per call charges.

Improved resilience in enterprise telephony: A typical enterprise telephony setup lacks resilience, as the connection from the premises to the local telephone exchange is usually a single point of failure. IP telephony from AirSpeed Telecom is now being delivered to Aughinish Alumina over two diversely routed IP points. This delivers better peace of mind for the 24/7 manufacturing operation, where loss of telephony would be a significant health and safety concern.

Justus said he has no doubt that switching to all IP is the right move, and that getting his voice, data and unified communications services from a company as responsive as AirSpeed makes his job much easier.

"AirSpeed Telecom are excellent – they’re very responsive, they know their business and they’re very technically competent, much more competent than some other providers I’ve dealt with," he says. "It’s a relationship that works for us."

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