Case study

Building resilience for critical hazardous material handling

Need to deliver a hazardous product right where it’s needed, right when it has to be there, all day, every day? If so, being able to operate without interruption is non-negotiable. One of Waterstons’ long-standing customers has just that challenge, and we have worked in partnership with them to build resilience and reliability into their business.

When you run a 24/7/365 operation supplying critical everyday products which absolutely, positively, have to be available on a ‘just-in-time’ distribution basis, resilience isn’t something you can just play at. So, when Waterstons, as a trusted partner of the organisation, were asked by one of our customers to design and implement a solution to improve security and availability of vital services and infrastructure across their sites, getting it right first time was non-negotiable.

With complex manufacturing and distribution businesses, operations are very often run by systems known as ‘SCADA’ – Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition – software. These systems have traditionally been implemented on their own separate communications networks, but as technology has advanced they are now more frequently found sharing IP network infrastructure with other equipment; the PCs, servers, routers, printers and the like which run ‘normal’ business operations.

Clearly, this presents risks; that the SCADA systems become vulnerable to both inadvertent and deliberate damage from user errors or cyber threats which penetrate the main network devices; that critical SCADA traffic on the network becomes vulnerable to delays due to network saturation, causing operations to slow down; and of course maintenance of the ‘business’ network can then have an impact on the critical operations network.

Our client’s SCADA systems are responsible for the storage, transfer, loading and unloading of critical products within their sites and from suppliers transporting raw materials and finished goods – so reliability and availability are paramount; our challenge was to implement a solution which would improve the security and resilience of their SCADA systems, adhering to the latest corporate and industry standards.

A design exercise highlighted four key implementation phases which would provide full security and resilience to their critical systems; including fibre connectivity to improve resilience and establishing distributed disaster recovery sites at each of their UK locations to ensure operational continuity in the event of issues in the primary facility.

Waterstons also re-architected the network to allow for segregation between different categories of device, maximising security; for example SCADA devices are segregated from networked computers, wireless devices, etc. Communication between different types of device is tightly controlled so that only legitimate connections and traffic are allowed. A new security policy was devised to ensure key devices could communicated effectively, whilst minimising unnecessary connections.

Disruption to operations was inevitable during such wholesale changes to the network infrastructure, but these were planned and managed in partnership with the client’s IT team to minimise operational impact with minimal downtime.

Eliminating single points of failure, implementing active/standby resilience and network segregation all ensured maximum availability and put in place strong technical foundations not only for business resilience now; but with capacity to scale and expand as the business evolves and innovates going forward.

Having a sound, resilient network is one thing, but Waterstons’ partnership with the client has also included other projects aimed at enhancing their business’s resilience. Another example is telephony; as the business has expanded and changed, reliance on communications between UK locations and beyond has grown. In a hazardous environment, you don’t want to pick up the phone and find it’s not working. So, with their old analogue and digital mixed systems at each location ageing, once again Waterstons were asked to provide a solution.

As a longstanding trusted partner, we used our experience and knowledge of the business to design a solution; using a VoIP platform to support internal and external calling; cordless and fixed handsets to facilitate working across the large UK sites both in and out of doors; and reducing the cost of calling between UK and overseas locations using their resilient Wide Area Networks to eliminate call charges between users at different sites hundreds of miles apart.

Using the client’s three sites to back up each other was part of the design; so a user from one can reconnect to a system at a different site should their local system fail or be down for maintenance. Additionally, this enables mobility and hot-desking support, with numbers attached to users rather than fixed desk locations, supporting agile and home working across the business. With the addition of internet-based SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) technology to replace independent fixed telephone lines, geographical dependencies are eliminated, allowing for transparent disaster recovery.

Through Waterstons’ trusted partnership with the client, their business is well equipped to handle unexpected situations; power outages, network failures, equipment breakdowns and cyber attacks are just some of the risks that are mitigated through projects such as these. True resilience relies on many factors, but having key technology elements in place plays a vital role in ensuring operational continuity through unforeseen circumstances.

To find out more about how we have helped our clients, large and small, to build a resilient business, check out our other case studies and articles – or contact our business resilience specialists to take the first step on your partnership journey with Waterstons.

Our market is an extremely volatile one, with regularly changing demands from customers and regulators. Waterstons used their knowledge of our business and the sector to design a robust, resilient and secure network which will scale easily as our business requirements change
UK IT Manager

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