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Alamos Gold Inc. and its subsidiaries are engaged in the acquisition, exploration, development and extraction of gold. The company owns the Mulatos Mine in Mexico and late-stage development projects in Turkey. With Riverbed SteelFusion Appliances, Alamos Gold experienced a reduction in IT management requirements while ensuring data security.


IN BRIEF

Industry

  • Mining

Challenges

  • Mines located outside urban centres in Mexico and Turkey
  • WANs too small, latent, and unreliable for real-time collaboration with HQ
  • Few qualified IT professionals in local communities; difficult to get equipment there
  • Disaster recovery (DR) strategy hampered by lack of real-time mine data

Solution

  • Riverbed® Steelhead® EX appliance: includes WAN acceleration, virtual services platform (VSP) and Riverbed Granite edge virtual server infrastructure (edge-VSI)

Benefits

  • More cost-effective, consolidated approach for deploying IT in distant areas
  • Centralized management reduces skillset required for IT professionals in distant locations
  • Enables faster, easier changes to distant IT infrastructure
  • Solid DR plan for distant locations
  • LAN-like performance of centralized applications
  • 8-month ROI for Riverbed equipment
  • IT architecture framework now in place for future mine sites

Alamos Gold Inc.

Alamos Gold Succeeds with Riverbed Granite Appliances, Which Enables a Reduction in IT Management Requirements While Ensuring Data Security

Alamos Gold Inc. and its subsidiaries are engaged in the acquisition, exploration, development and extraction of gold. The company owns the Mulatos Mine in Mexico and late-stage development projects in Turkey.

Challenge: Delivering IT to distant locations

The Mulatos gold mine in Mexico is located in the Sierra Madre Mountains of northern Mexico. The mine is about a five-hour drive from Hermosillo, Mexico, the closest major city, but most conveniently accessed by air via a runway the company built beside the mine. The mine is powered by diesel generators. This presents different challenges than projects with preexisting access to public infrastructure. Alamos’ Turkish properties, located in the northwestern state of Çanakkale, are connected to public paved roads and an electrical power grid.

At both locations, Alamos professionals generate a high volume of data that needs to be shared with colleagues in the company’s Toronto headquarters. Geologists, for example, create a terabyte of mapping data each year using applications such as MapInfo from Pitney Bowes and ArcGIS from ESRI, along with some open-source programs. Other critical applications include the Microsoft business suite, as well as MineSight from Mintech and Autodesk AutoCAD software.

Until recently, map data from Turkey was sent through the mail to Toronto on external hard drives. That’s in part because the WAN in Turkey was subject to frequent outages. But even when it was working, it was so small (1 mbps at best) and had so much latency (175-220 ms) that sending large files was essentially impossible. The Mexican sites’ bandwidth, while better than at the Turkish projects, was still not enough for Alamos’ needs. For example, Alamos had centralized a web-based mining productivity application in Toronto, which was impossible to access from Mexico.

Sending data through the mail often took 3 to 4 days. Maps became outdated in that time, preventing effective collaboration between people in the field and those at headquarters. “Data was reviewed on a quarterly basis, and we wanted that to happen more in real time,” explains Rohit Tellis, Director of Information Technology at Alamos. Use of postal services also resulted in a lag time of several days between data in the field and the versions stored in the Toronto data center, limiting the effectiveness of the company’s DR strategy.

There were several other challenges in supporting distant sites. It was difficult to find IT expertise locally, and prohibitively expensive to import it. It was also difficult to transport equipment such as servers to the sites. In addition, data generated at the mines needed to somehow be backed up and stored.

Solution: Granite appliances with VSP and WAN acceleration

Given the limited life of mine sites, as well as the cost of pulling fiber to these locations, bandwidth upgrades were not feasible. Tellis considered centralizing all of the servers in Toronto and implementing WAN acceleration, but in view of the limited functionality of the local WANs, this was not the best solution. “Because of very low bandwidth availability and intermittent outages, having servers based only in Toronto was not effective. It was clear we would require certain services at the mine sites,” he notes.

That could have taken the form of regular servers, supplemented by WAN acceleration, or software that would allow synchronization of data sets on the local servers with those at headquarters. However, Tellis learned of a simpler and more cost-effective alternative: Granite appliances from Riverbed Technology.

Granite appliances consist of two components: Granite Core, a physical or virtualized appliance that resides in the data center alongside the company’s centralized storage (a Dell EqualLogic SAN), and Granite Edge, a service that runs at the edge on a Riverbed Steelhead EX series branch office box, which also features WAN optimization and the VMware-based Riverbed virtual services platform (VSP).

VSP eliminates the need for servers at distant sites, while still giving Alamos the ability to save the data locally. “With Granite, we are able to serve up the data at the local site, have it cached in the event of an outage, and still streamed back to the data center in near real time,” Tellis explains. “Having deduplication and all of the other benefits of WAN acceleration makes this process possible over something like a 600-kbps upload speed.”

At the time Alamos was looking at Granite appliances, Tellis opened the selection process to other vendors. “We threw out the challenge: ‘If you can price it out and do it with more than one solution – using software plus OEM server plus WAN acceleration, for example – we would be interested,’” he says. “No one could come back with a viable solution, except Riverbed.”

Benefits: Centralized management of IT infrastructure; solid DR plan and future deployment flexibility for mine sites

Alamos installed a Riverbed Steelhead CX appliance and Riverbed Granite™ Core appliance in its data center in Toronto, and Steelhead EX appliances in Mexico and Turkey. The cost of the solution (the Riverbed appliances plus a Microsoft server license) was significantly less than what it would have cost to install physical servers at each site.

Tellis calculated that by avoiding the cost of investing in additional bandwidth, it would take only 8 months for the Riverbed purchase to pay for itself. Factoring in other potential savings, such as the cost to buy and support actual servers at each site, the approach may yield a positive ROI even sooner.

But perhaps more important than the cost savings was the simplicity of the solution. Going with the Granite solution reduced the hardware requirements of the locations to just a Steelhead EX + Granite appliance and a firewall. There is no longer a need for a switch, file server, or backup software – a huge advantage in an environment where it can be difficult to deploy equipment and more difficult to support it.

“Granite lets us bring down the complexity of what the local IT resources need to manage, and allows us to focus our IT expertise in Toronto where there is ample talent available,” Tellis explains. Although Alamos will still hire local IT expertise to support the mine sites, the skills required will make it easier to find the right person.

Centralized management of the IT infrastructure also pays off whenever there’s a need to make a change. “Because the turnaround time for acquiring resources in a city is so much faster compared to a distant location, making a change – such as adding disk space in the data center and presenting it at the distant locations – is much faster and easier,” Tellis says.

Now that it’s no longer necessary to mail data, information arrives in Toronto within hours instead of days, eliminating the possibility that two or three days worth of data could be lost in the event of an emergency. “With Granite, we have realized a concrete DR plan for our distant sites,” Tellis adds. The availability of real-time data should also improve the ability of geologists to collaborate with their colleagues in the field.

Riverbed WAN optimization functionality lets Alamos employees in Mexico access the mining productivity application centralized in Toronto. “It was unusable by them previously, but once we implemented Riverbed, they had LAN-like access,” Tellis notes. He expects personnel in Turkey to begin using the centralized application as well.

Tellis’ long-term goal is to create a reference IT architecture that can be accessed from anywhere his company might choose to go. He is well on his way to achieving that goal. “We have some issues yet to work out, but with Granite, the majority of our branch reference architecture is now in place.”

SUMMARY

Alamos Gold Inc.’s mining operations in Mexico and exploration activities in Turkey generate huge volumes of data that need to be transferred to the company’s headquarters in Toronto. The WANs in the far-off regions are so small, latent and unreliable that it was previously impossible to transmit large data files digitally. Information was sent through the mail, preventing real-time collaboration between the mines and HQ and compromising the DR strategy. The locations of the sites also made it difficult to find local IT support.

The need to save data locally ruled out WAN acceleration alone as a solution. Alamos was able to avoid the costs of deploying actual servers at each mine site by implementing the Riverbed Granite solution – a Steelhead EX appliance featuring the combination of WAN acceleration, the Virtual Services Platform (VSP) and Granite edge virtual server infrastructure (edge-VSI).

VSP eliminated the need for servers while still giving Alamos the ability to save the data locally. In addition, the company got deduplication and all of the other benefits of WAN acceleration, enabling it to transmit large data files without upgrading the existing WANs. This cost-effective approach (an 8-month ROI) reduced the skillset required for local IT support by allowing the branch offices’ IT infrastructures to be managed from Toronto.

Also, having current mine data backed up and stored in Toronto ensures a solid DR plan. With Steelhead CX appliances and Granite appliances in its data center in Toronto and Steelhead EX appliances in Mexico and Turkey, Alamos Gold found an effective, consolidated approach for deploying IT in distant locations.

“Granite appliances let us bring down the complexity of what the local IT resources have to manage, and helps concentrate our IT expertise in Toronto where there is ample talent available.”

“We threw out the challenge [to other vendors]. No one could come back with a viable solution, except Riverbed.”

“With Granite appliances, we have realized a concrete DR plan for our branch offices.”

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