Eagle taking IT into the jungle
The deep, dense virgin jungle of Papua New Guinea isn’t where you’d expect to find a Kiwi technology company. But for Eagle Technology, it was all in a day’s work when they were called on to provide IT infrastructure for oil and gas exploration company, GAMA ProjEX.
Surrounded by dense primary forest, with trees towering 50 metres overhead, GAMA’s teams do detailed geotech surveying at 25m intervals along stretches of land typically 10,000 sq kms at a time. The teams – around 400 people in all – are spread across base camps which regularly move.
With no roads or infrastructure at all, transport is by helicopter or, occasionally, barges up rivers. The extreme climate sees 10m of rainfall each year.
Now throw into the mix a ‘challenging’ local workforce, called on to assist Gama’s teams make their way through the jungle, and warring tribes throughout the jungle area.
“You couldn’t imagine a more challenging environment to service,” says Duane Eagle, Eagle Technology executive director.
Added to the environmental challenges were technical challenges – no internet connections, limited to low speed digital data availability with VHF radios rather than cellular networks and an environment that isn’t conducive to housing sensitive computer equipment.
GAMA’s systems needed modernising and the company was looking for a computer-based manifest system to manage transportation of assets and workers to ensure it could always pinpoint where staff and expensive equipment were at any time.
“Basically, the guts of the system is command and control, because it’s all about helicopters and ferrying people and equipment around and having them in the right place at the right time,” Duane says. “It’s like running a military operation and, in fact, the software used comes out of that industry.”
The company initially approached Eagle through their distribution of Esri’s ArcGIS platform.
“They engaged us to design, implement and support an IT infrastructure that would support that level of complexity in that environment,” Duane says.
“We analysed their varying requirements and then designed a solution.”
The solution was a situational awareness system as well as a GIS system using radio connections to satellite, with a virtual cloud-based back office hosted on Amazon Web Services and making comprehensive use of the AWS architecture.
“It was very natural to have it based on Amazon,” Duane notes. “You wanted to absolutely minimise the amount of physical infrastructure you had on the ground.”
The dispersed nature of the operations – not only on the ground but with data being sent back to offices in Brisbane and Perth and around the world – also made Amazon ‘a very appropriate platform’, Duane adds.
“There were a lot of design challenges,” he says of the project.
“It demanded the scope of our infrastructure capability – the satellite linking, the radio connections, problems with security and intermittent access.
“These are tough problems to solve and to do that you have to have a really good scope of capability.”
Crucially, Eagle also provides full service desk operational support.
“If something goes wrong the guys out there can pick up the phone and get a real person, and we know the system backwards and therefore can support it really effectively.”
Duane says the project highlights a critical cycle for IT projects: strategy, plan, design, implement and build.
“It’s a really good example of Eagle’s full lifecycle capability.
“Effectively, we have strategised, planned, designed and implemented the solution and we support and enhance it.
“That’s our positioning as a company in the cloud – that we are involved throughout the full lifecycle.”
And while most Kiwi businesses won’t have to contend with the extremes of the GAMA project, Duane says the basics, and that cycle, remain the same.
“They all have to go through a similar exercise. Why do I want this? What’s the purpose of it and what am I trying to achieve? What are the key things the system must do for me? What are the impediments?
“They mightn’t be jungle impediments, but there will be some. It might be that some of their applications won’t work on it.
“GAMA happened to be an extreme, but it’s the same thing for everyone, the same cycle. What should I focus on? What’s my roadmap of adoption? What’s the best way of designing this to work with my current systems and what specific things must I do?
“Then they need to be implemented and supported. That’s the lifecycle of adoption,” Duane says.
“Eagle really does know what it’s doing in the cloud space and knows how to deliver and support complex solutions.”