Serving the global aviation industry, Dublin Aerospace’s story has been about consistent growth since it was founded in 2009. It has three separate sites in the group, and with more expansion planned, it needed an agile way to connect their networks, with the flexibility to cope as the business evolves.
In the space of just 13 years, Dublin Aerospace Group has grown from an 18-person startup to a company with a workforce of 500 across three sites in Ireland and the UK. Expansion has been a theme for the company since those early days. Having begun from a space at Hangar 5 at Dublin Airport, the company now operates a four-bay base maintenance facility that specialises in maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) for the global aviation industry. Its Dublin Airport site maintains close to 50 narrow body aircraft every year, while its APU overhaul centre can handle 200 auxiliary power units a year.
In 2020, Dublin Aerospace moved swiftly to acquire the former Flybe maintenance services site at Exeter Airport, offering base maintenance services for smaller commuter aircraft across six hangar bays. The group had also seen the potential for its landing gear repair operations to increase, so it had been looking for a site off campus to facilitate the growth of that business. In October 2021, it opened the doors at its state-of-the-art landing gear facility based in Ashbourne, 15km from Dublin Airport – part of a €12 million investment supported by Enterprise Ireland and Dublin Aerospace shareholders.
Here’s how Tony Conroy, Dublin Aerospace’s Head of IT, describes the company philosophy: “We pride ourselves on seeing opportunities and being agile enough as an organisation to grab them. We opened two new facilities in the middle of the pandemic because we saw there were opportunities to bring the business to where we wanted, to offer better services to our customers.”
With three sites now in the group, consolidating them onto one network was the logical next step. Although the Exeter site had gone live first, the company had already been planning the Ashbourne facility. It wanted the ability to support that site through the main business ERP system and corporate Microsoft applications, so high-quality connectivity was essential. Originally, Dublin Aerospace went to market expecting to invest in point-to-point connections between the locations. “When the opportunity arose to also develop the business in Exeter, I looked at MPLS solutions because I wanted all of the sites to interact directly with each other,” Tony explains.
Discussions with Three opened up an intriguing new possibility: as an alternative to dedicated MPLS connections, Three proposed SD WAN (software-defined wide area networking) technology. SD WAN gives businesses of all sizes greater flexibility that enables them to respond to business changes faster. The technology is also much more cost-effective since it doesn’t need extra investment in dedicated lines or more hardware. “We wanted to benefit from what the internet can offer us in terms of secure connections, so having spoken to Three and their experts, and looked at the pricing model and the benefits we could gain, we came to a lightbulb moment in terms of the right solution not just for now but what we wanted going forward to develop our business,” says Tony.
Three deployed a Meraki SD WAN, including all hardware, licences and support, across the three sites. As part of the agreement, Three proactively manages and monitors the SD WAN service around the clock from its network operations centre.
SD WAN has delivered multiple benefits for Dublin Aerospace Group. Because the technology is software-based, it’s more flexible. SD WAN is “plug and play” so it works with the internet connectivity that businesses already have, whether that’s an existing broadband line or wireless 4G. Tony points out that this makes it much easier to move over to a backup connection if the internet connection to one of the sites is interrupted. “If you need to make a configuration change, or make services available on a different virtual network, it’s much quicker to do that in a software-based WAN than to manage a series of different hardware connections and configurations,” he says.
The technology lets remote users connect easily to the company IT systems through a virtual private network, and it works seamlessly with the Microsoft Windows operating system that Dublin Aerospace staff use. This allowed Dublin Aerospace to support its team to work off site, as required, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
SD WAN’s flexibility is also a critical support to the business strategy. When the company identifies new opportunities to expand through acquisition, it can do so knowing its network can add the new site easily. “We’re moving to where we have closer interaction between Exeter and Ashbourne and as we grow to further sites, it would have become harder to manage those individual connections if we didn’t have SD WAN,” adds Tony.
What’s more, Tony says the cost is “substantially” lower than MPLS lines would have been. “If we had gone with point-to-point connectivity, it would have tripled our infrastructure, increased our costs in terms of individual connections and at the same time restricted ourselves in terms of traffic that can travel from one site to another,” he says.
Having the SD WAN fully monitored by Three frees up Dublin Aerospace’s IT team to focus on other valuable work to support the business. Tony operates a lean team that’s designed to multitask, and it can do this more efficiently because it doesn’t need one individual dedicated only to managing the network.
A benefit of working with Three was that having a close relationship with a single provider is easier to manage and leads to issues being rectified faster. Tony also praises Three for its approach from the very beginning. “When we talked to different providers – and I talked to several – some say: ‘this is what we do’, and that wasn’t what I wanted. With Three, we were listened to,” he says.
And the proof is in how well the solution has worked since then, Tony adds. “The reliability and the robustness of the solution we have is so important to us. It’s been rock solid in terms of operation and availability. And Three’s knowledge and understanding of what we’re trying to achieve has been critical. It’s a true partnership for us, it’s having a partner that we can build with, that we trust, with knowledge that we can tap into – and they understand our philosophy and what we’re trying to do.”