Server software becomes diamond mine’s best friend

A diamond mine near the Arctic Circle has unearthed a better way to share applications with its head office.

Diavik Diamond Mines Inc. is based in Yellowknife, but the actual mining pit is 300-km to the northwest. The two locations

stay in touch via satellite link, resulting in a roughly one-second roundtrip communications delay. That, combined with the limitations of satellite bandwidth, proved a challenge to the exchange of information.

“”We’re trying to make sure the environment here in Yellowknife and the environment at the mine site are — as much as possible — the same,”” said Peter Heine, IT manager for DDMI, “”so when people go back and forth between the offices, they don’t have to relearn things.””

In order to set up shop quickly and overcome the geographic challenges, DDMI deployed its applications on a Citrix MetaFrame Presentation Server. The company uses a Mincom Ellipse asset management system, TABS travel booking software, as well as HR software, time-sheet entry, e-mail and other applications. Using the Citrix environment, these have been deployed to a server farm so they can be centrally managed and to avoid any impact on the desktop machines that access them.

The Citrix environment helps minimize the delay that would otherwise be caused by using the limited bandwidth that satellite affords, said Heine. “”We simply reflect back the keyboard and the screen, and we keep the processing where the server is.””

Quick set-up and bandwidth restrictions are typical customer requirements, said David Wright, area vice-president Canada for Citrix Systems Inc. “”When the user wants to access those applications, they can do so in a number of ways — over the corporate LAN, dial-in from home — they could be using dial-up, wireless, access from hotel rooms, any number of ways,”” he said. “”We’re not concerned with the type of device that they’re using, what we provide is a completely secure method of accessing the data.””

The technical challenges facing DDMI are unlike those of many Canadian companies, given the terrain and distance involved. But the mine site — which employs 300 people, 200 of which are IT users — has its own power generation and residential facilities. It is equipped with a mixture of fibre optic, wired and wireless networks.

“”From a work point of view, working on site or working in the corporate office really isn’t any different. I have access to the same resources — telephone, e-mail, Web access. There’s nothing there that’s different,”” said Heine. “”What is different is how we implement the applications to try to allow customization to avoid any of the difficulties that we do have with the satellite link.””

In a year, the mine produces 3.8 million karats worth of diamonds, which are largely distributed into the jewelry industry.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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