Immediate IT scaffolding for a city fallen

In September 2010, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck Canterbury causing widespread damage. Five months later an even more destructive magnitude 6.3 aftershock left 185 people dead and devastated already weakened buildings and infrastructure.

With more than 160,000 dwellings identified as part of the vertical rebuild,  the Earthquake Commission in New Zealand established a residential repair programme, with Fletcher Earthquake Recovery (EQR)  as project manager.

The Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team (SCIRT), an alliance of multiple companies and organisations including the Christchurch City Council, was responsible for the ‘horizontal rebuild’ – the earthquake-damaged roads, fresh water, wastewater and stormwater networks.

EQR established hubs in whatever  buildings were available – scout halls, disused sports clubrooms and Portacom  villages in residential areas. 

Datacom was called in to urgently help set up IT systems and infrastructure services. The core needs were speed,  flexibility and resilience.

The Challenge

The challenges of establishing an emergency infrastructure were immense:

  • Business grade network services were not available to the areas that needed support
  • With the hubs having a finite lifetime it was not logical for EQR or telcos to invest large amounts of money into circuits that would eventually become unused
  • When EQR identified the location for a new hub it had to be in service as quickly as possible – no time to plan for network infrastructure.

A swift response was critical.

The initial EQR infrastructure after the September quake consisted of two servers; a terminal server for application delivery, and an infrastructure server providing email, file and print, and authentication and access management. A two-server infrastructure was ready for users within three days of the repair programme being set up.

Twenty-four hours after the February earthquake, when much of the city was down and in black-out,  we provisioned five more servers for EQR in the Datacom Cloud to run critical systems. These five servers scaled to 30 within a few months and then to 87, supporting 800+ IT systems users at its peak to keep Christchurch running and to support EQR in resolving the massive widespread damage.

EQR on day one had 30 people in one hub and over the three years this extended to more  than 700 people in 20 hubs  across the city to service demand.

  • The first SCIRT team was operating from one Portacom and then a second was added; we built the first servers and configured the first 28 laptops for this team.
  • Technology we implemented and supported included Windows Servers, Microsoft Exchange, Terminal Services, Citrix, SQL, SharePoint, CRM and Enterprise Vault.
  • We also supported mobile users, mobile devices, remote access, IP telephony, user devices, printing; and we deployed on-site engineers.
  • Other services included cloud, systems management, software development, networks management, service desk and IT project management.
  • Our Christchurch data centre remained 100% up and running 24/7, which is remarkable given its location in the red zone. We continue to keep the environment secure and available at all times.

The Datacom Difference

When EQR identified a new permanent site, our team started organising feasibility studies from network vendors to install a WAN circuit. For the majority of sites, Enable Networks were the preferred telecommunications provider, and were able to provide a circuit. However when they couldn’t,  we had to get creative. 

Our improvisations included:

  • An Enable circuit to the nearest school, and then a dedicated point to point radio link.
  • When the primary wireless network supplier didn’t have a connection to a location we used a intermediate supplier to bridge the gap.
  • Co-ordinating these suppliers to create a Layer 2 connection from Datacom to multiple hubs.
  • Using a local ISP (e.g. Akaroa Hub) to provide an Internet service so we could build a VPN tunnel back to our data centre. 

The result was a flexible, stable, fast and resilient infrastructure that supported a city in desperate need.

“During a time of uncertainty and great demand, the team at Datacom worked closely to provide the right resources at the right time."

Piers Lehmann, IT Manager - SCIRT