If providing laptops and bandwidth for employees located within an urban area in Western Europe can be tough, imagine doing it in the oil fields of Kazakhstan in Central Asia.
Operating a network in Kazakhstan, a country bordering China and Russia, is just one thing that Nigel Fletcher, mobile segment manager at the British gas-exploration firm BG Group, thinks about in his job to make sure mobile workers get access to the corporate network. BG Group has about 4,000 employees, 60 percent of whom are outside of Britain, many on ceaseless travel to distant locations around the globe.
"We have a group of about 500 engineers who are rarely in one place for more than a few weeks," Fletcher says. Often, remote access really does mean remote.
While BG Group has a WAN supplied by Equant in the US and Europe, extending network access to mobile workers in many parts of the world is a challenge because modern telecom and the Internet can be hard to come by.
But it's critical to give on-the-go executives and engineers access to internal applications, such as SAP or Microsoft Exchange, so they can do their jobs, Fletcher says.
Kazakhstan, which has emerged as an important area for oil-exploration firms that also include Chevron ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch/Shell, doesn't have a substantially built-out telecom infrastructure. So several of the firms banded together to build a shared gigabit-fibre network with a satellite link to Moscow as the nearest point of presence. "We pooled our resources," Fletcher says.
BG Group also relies on satellite access to connect offices in urban areas such as Singapore and Mumbai, India, to its landline corporate network. While BG Group requires use of a VPN connection for secure access via remote laptop, the company earlier this year expanded its security strategy through use of the iPass endpoint management software.
The iPass software client combines policy enforcement of VPN, anti-virus and patch management with options for use of the iPass Corporate Access Service. This service offers secure dial-up, broadband connections or wireless access to thousands of Wi-Fi hot spots in airports, cafes and hotel LANs in more than 50 countries.
Through agreements with providers that include China Telecom and NTT in Japan, plus about 300 other providers globally, the iPass Corporate Access Service allows network access via a single log-on, with itemised billing for the corporate IT department.
"It was a strategic decision for us for this," Fletcher says. In some areas of the world, such as Central Asia, the Wi-Fi hot spots in cafes and airports provide the best opportunities for engineers to get network access when they are travelling.
BG Group regards iPass as a less-expensive replacement for long-distance calls via remote access server into the intranet. IPass is being rolled out to BG Group employees in South America, Asia, the Middle East, Africa and the Caribbean. Third-party systems integrator ETT, which operates a multilingual round-the-clock operations centre in London, is providing global support.
As in Kazakhstan, the struggle to keep a network up and running in the Arctic wilderness also proves to be challenging.
The Barrow Arctic Science Consortium (BASC), housed in the Naval Arctic Research Lab facility in Alaska, hosts about 300 university and government scientists who periodically arrive to do work with the expectation they'll have the full Internet access they're used to in the rest of the U.S.
That's despite the fact that BASC is "330 miles above the tree line, flat as a desert with vicious winds and no landline access," says Bob Bulger, the facility's IT co-ordinator.
An AT&T satellite link to an earth station on the edge of town is the connection to the outside world, but the hard part is maintaining a stable wireless LAN because the "local power supply is poor and it fried my wireless routers," Bulger says.
Bulger also maintains a wireline LAN because some US government agencies, such as the Department of Energy, have prohibitions on WLANs for security reasons.
Unlike the situation for most IT staff in the more populated states, it's rare for any vendor to reach out to try and sell something, Bulger says. "Dell doesn't even recognise Alaska commercially," he says.
However, a few vendors "have stepped up to the plate" to provide needed software and services, Bulger says. He credits HP, from which BASC buys laptops, switches and servers, as a help - especially because an HP representative from San Jose rushed to the airport with a 2650 switch as overnight cargo to Alaska when the switch was sorely needed.
Other suppliers Bulger counts on include Symantec for security gear and AIS, a value-added reseller in Colorado. AIS representatives travelled to Barrow to analyse BASC's network requirements and helped set up the internal network.
Nevertheless, Bulger says he can't rely on any vendor to provide remote management of equipment because the latency caused by the satellite link makes that too difficult.