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Fight Or Flight: Why A Robust Network Is Critical To Mitigating Risk

Mike Leibovitz, director, office of the CTO at Extreme Networks, discusses a recent IT collaboration with KLM UK Engineering and explains why a strong computer network is integral to aviation firms looking for operational excellence.

The aviation industry is booming. According to a report by the Department for Transport, passenger numbers at UK airports is set to increase from 219 million in 2011 to 315 million in 2030, further rising to 445 million by 2050. As such the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has implemented stringent regulations to ensure aircraft remain safe and secure.

The purpose built requirements will run right from the design and manufacturing phase to the long-term ongoing maintenance of working aircraft including the IT systems involved. Regulating the aircraft development lifecycle will mean maintenance tasks, personnel and inspections are all tightly regulated and staff must be licensed for the tasks they carry out or they could have their permits revoked costing millions of pounds to the business.
 
The UK aviation sector was valued at £52bn in overall GDP in 2014, and this growth trajectory will only continue. As firms within the industry look at ways of adopting technology to operate more efficiently and capitalise on the market opportunity, the risks too increase tenfold. A reliable IT network is now a core requirement when it comes to compliance, and is one that should be taken seriously; one small IT glitch can put a stop to all operations, and can only resume once stringent checks have been carried out. This downtime could prove to have a big impact on the bottom line.
 
KLM UK Engineering Limited is a leading regional aircraft and narrow body maintenance, repair and operations provider based at Norwich International Airport. The maintenance and repair division provides services including heavy maintenance, technical training and decommissioning of aircraft.  The team services a number of aircraft owned by parent company, Air France, but also works with other airlines such as Jet2 and Cityjet.
 
In 2012, KLM UK Engineering was preparing for a forthcoming CAA audit to assess their ability to manage disaster recovery; specifically looking at how the firm deals with backup procedures. IT infrastructure was a core aspect of this audit, and KLM UK Engineering knew that the CAA would be looking for proof that the firm had a robust platform with good data recovery and backup procedures.
 
Prior to this audit, KLM UK Engineering’s own Safety and Compliance Department had conducted an assessment of the firm’s network infrastructure. A serious concern had been identified; KLM UK Engineering only had one core switch in the centre of its IT infrastructure which, if it broke down, would bring the whole network down. There was little provision for network redundancy or outage, both of which posed a serious threat to business continuity.
 
Mark Walker, IT Manager at KLM UK Engineering, said: “In addition to the CAA audit, KLM UK Engineering’s network connection had always been provided from a parent company’s head office in Amsterdam. The result was a heavily restricted 2MB internet connection that was restricting work on both the shop floor and the back office.”
 
With over 400 employees spread across the shop floor and back office, KLM UK Engineering believed the only way to address these problems was to separate themselves from the head office’s connection and upgrade their own network by replacing the core switches.
 
After considering solutions from vendors such as HP and Cisco, KLM UK Engineering needed a robust and agile solution that could limit downtime. The company purchased four of the X670Vs-48 switches, and installed two in each computer room; by installing these in two separate rooms, it means that if one switch failed, there would still be another computer room to provide seamless backup.  
 
Once the solution was in place, the speed and reliability of the network drastically improved, and with a 40GB backbone, the speed of data transfer across the network is very quick when replicating servers and data stores between computer rooms-
 
Walker added: “The switches were very easy to implement and require very little maintenance. We’ve not had to do anything, and as we’re not a massive team this is very important. It allows us to focus on more strategic projects rather than worrying about network administration.”
 
“We recently fell victim to local flooding, and we saw one of our two computer rooms being closed down. However, due to the new solution, one computer room was able to keep our IT running, the engineers working and – ultimately – aircraft maintenance schedules on track. Furthermore, in August 2015, we were audited and passed regulations to be disaster recovery compliant.”
 
As the aviation sector increasingly looks to new technologies to improve operational efficiency and support business growth – and firms therefore come to depend on this technology functioning correctly – we will see a greater emphasis on IT throughout all aspects of regulation. A robust network will provide the all-important data recovery and backup needed to keep the businesses functioning and aircraft above ground.

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