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A single network for 50 offices and 60 ships

Thomas Apfel , Lead Engineer Networking

My first encounter with Van Oord was when I was hired as an agency worker. I decided right away that I wanted to get a permanent job there. A year and a half later, I succeeded in doing just that when I started work as a network engineer. "Go to a ship", I was told. I thought: huh? I'm here for the plugs and routers, aren't I? But it turned out there was a whole network on board, complete with satellite communications. By now, I have seen almost all the ships.

512 Kbit tunnels

The transition to the cloud at Van Oord began with the CRA project – Cloud Reference Architecture. The starting point was devising and preparing for the change extremely thoroughly beforehand, because it had to be right first time. Together with an external architect, I conducted research, studied developments, mapped the environment, brought in the right people and so created the blueprint for the new infrastructure on Azure. Van Oord has 50 office locations and 60 ships and they all need to be linked up together. On board we have 512 Kbit tunnels. They can't really handle a whole lot of data so you have to be inventive. So the processing takes place in the Azure environment; it has the required computing power, which means only the results have to go back and forth. Ships also exchange a lot of data among themselves, for example about the situation at a project location. Given the restrictions we face, photos are not an option, so we use coordinates instead. We have already tackled a lot of questions of this kind and apparently we did such a good job that Microsoft has used us as an example in presentations about cloud technology. That gives you a kick, I can tell you. As a network geek who has always been working with cables and boxes, I observe all the developments with real fascination – such as software defined networking, where even the network hardware has become virtual. Nothing to plug in, just a piece of code.

Van Oord for life

Whenever I think: it's bound to get boring now, something happens that forces us to really roll our sleeves up. Data analysis is a good example. Ships are chock full of sensors and everything is recorded. And because in this world it is partly – in fact, mainly – about price, knowledge about fuel consumption in different conditions, for example, helps us to use energy more efficiently. In this way, IT goes from being to a workplace supplier to one of the pillars of business operations. Even aside from my work, I love this company. I'm kind of straightforward and the uncomplicated way everyone interacts with each other here suits me very well. The top boss is quite happy talking to a service engineer as they stand there looking out over the river Maas. The fact that it's a family business shows through in all sorts of ways; people are really important here and we genuinely feel heard. I hope to be at Van Oord for life.