A network that adapts to current needs at the push of a button? The real estate developer Halter knew that such a thing existed. And found a strong solution together with Swisscom and Cisco.
Text: Anton Neuenschwander (BTK), Images: Michael Meier,
Halter AG has six locations in Switzerland. In addition, the company operates its temporary offices at an average of around 20 large construction sites. The development and implementation of construction and property projects involves a considerable data volume. Halter needs a high-performance network to securely transport and exchange this data.
Marc Funcek, Head of ICT at Halter, describes the biggest challenges he faces with regard to the network: "It's principally mobile working and the various end devices that have added complexity. Our employees are always connected: in the office, on construction sites, working from home or on the road – and often at any time of the day or night. Furthermore, our business is very dynamic: workstations on a new construction site have to function right out of the box – we don't have time to spend ages configuring them." What would be the ideal situation for users? "That they can simply switch on their device everywhere and at any time and are immediately perfectly connected. They shouldn't even notice that they're working in the cloud, or with data and applications from our data centre."
Halter is one of the leading companies for construction and real estate services in Switzerland. The some 280 employees are involved in the design and implementation of development projects with all kinds of uses and investment volumes of all sizes.
"Our employees are always connected."
Marc Funcek, Head of ICT at Halter AG
Marc Funcek is satisfied that Halter has very nearly reached this ideal condition. This is thanks to a "cultural shift". Halter has digitised its network with a software-defined networking (SDN) solution from Swisscom and Cisco. As a result, many processes can be automated and the network maintenance effort has noticeably decreased. Marc Funcek provides examples: "We used to have to be on site to adjust settings at a branch. Today, we conveniently do this using the dashboard – if necessary, also on Saturdays, at home on the balcony with the tablet. Or: At large construction sites, we only need an Internet connection. We dock our configured ICT box with it, and the rest is plug and play." Stefan Koch, ICT Architect at Halter, speaks of further important advantages provided by the SDN solution: "It allows for more flexible and better coverage. We can react proactively in the event of unwanted external access or outages."
Overview on the SDN dashboard: Stefan Koch (left) and Marc Funcek.
Marc Funcek explains that he had been working with SDN for some time before the project started: "Halter wants to be modern and efficient. SDN fits in very nicely in this regard. It has not been on offer for medium-sized companies for long. When we knocked on Cisco's door, they were a bit surprised by our ambitious implementation schedule. "We knew where we wanted to go, but we didn't know exactly how to get there." This is where Swisscom came in. "We got to know the SDN solution in depth at a live session at Swisscom Lab and in workshops at Cisco." Within a very short time, the specialists from Swisscom and Halter designed and implemented the new network in close cooperation. Funcek recalls that Swisscom's willingness and ability to integrate industry-specific requirements into the solution was very gratifying.
Halter wants to operate the network itself, but relies on Swisscom support. "Swisscom's knowledge transfer is important," he says, "because we can get more out of the network if we have the knowledge in-house." In fact, SDN requires a radical rethinking, adds Stefan Koch, because: "You have to forget pretty much everything you know from traditional networks. SDN has a completely different logic: It's one single network, everywhere. Its flexibility is phenomenal."
"Network settings for the branches are made conveniently on the dashboard."
What tips does Marc Funcek have for other companies taking on SDN? "SDN makes sense for companies with a minimum size of three locations and around 80 to 100 employees. The initial setup should not be underestimated; it is a highly complex topic. But after overcoming this hurdle, SDN practically runs itself. Nevertheless, it is indispensable to have your own network team. Our solution impresses with 100 percent availability, high performance and improved security. Its high flexibility enables our customers to offer new services and products."
For Marc Funcek, the journey is not over yet: "In the future, the network will provide our business with even better support. With artificial intelligence, it can become self-learning and grow or contract exactly where it determines it needs to. Or it could recognise the routines of individual users and automatically prioritise what they need, such as software." Stefan Koch brings us back to the present with his conclusion: "SDN gives me back time that I can use for other things."
Today a model, tomorrow a construction site that can be integrated into the network.
"You have to forget pretty much everything you know from traditional networks."
Stefan Koch, ICT Architect at Halter AG
Based on software-defined networking, Cisco ACI enables companies to take an important step towards automating their network infrastructure. Swisscom is your expert partner for the purchase, design, implementation, support and operation of the solutions.
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