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Network Support: Organisations and institutions leverage telecom to improve operations

June 01, 2012
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Educational institutions, hospitals and township developers are increasingly banking on telecom to acquire a competitive edge.

For campuses, effective telecom infrastructure is of key importance. These institutions have deployed multi-tiered communications infrastructure. The most common tools used include DLC (local loop), ISDN, VSATs, MPLS and IP-VPNs for wide area network (WAN) connectivity.

VSATs are utilised for distance learning, wherein lectures delivered by the institute’s faculty are made accessible to teachers and industry professionals in remote locations, via satellite remote centres. Lectures from the central site are broadcast utilising a VSAT network. The VSAT footprint usually covers the entire country, thereby enabling the setting up of remote centres across India.

MPLS has helped campuses achieve increased network scalability, simplified network service integration and management, and offered integrated data recovery.

Several IT applications are being used by these institutions. The most widely used solutions include enterprise resource planning (ERP), SAP, Oracle’s PeopleSoft enterprise campus application, Mathematica and MATLAB.

Hospitals have also been leveraging telecom as a strategic tool. Today, major healthcare companies are using tools such as the hospital information system, which provides an accurate electronically stored medical record of patients.

For connectivity across various centres, most medical companies have opted for the hub-and-spoke model, where the “hubs” are the major superspeciality centres connected to regional facilities (or spokes), via leased lines, ISDN, etc. The model allows these organisations to efficiently deploy resources across their network, facilitate streamlined communication among the centres, and improve the quality of healthcare across the network.

Townships have similar requirements, especially for developed telecommunication facilities, given the demand for high bandwidth from home-based businesses, residents, community centres, libraries, hospitals, retail stores, etc. It is imperative that the technologies required to support key activities in townships are affordable, capable and dependable.

Several telecom operators have designed their product portfolios to meet the demand in this space. For example, Bharti Airtel offers a large portfolio of products for townships. The operator’s Centrex solution provides an intercom facility to streamline communication among flats in the same building. This solution can be used for making calls to various locations within the residential area including the township’s control room, maintenance room, etc. The operator also offers broadband solutions for this segment. The entire building can be converted into a Wi-Fi hotspot wherein residents can access the internet through their laptops and desktops, avail of videoconferencing, watch movies online, and use the e-security (video surveillance) and e-commerce facilities. Also, for interconnectivity among buildings in a residential complex, a transparent local area network (LAN) service can be used. The service offers a stable and reliable medium for intra-company connectivity and enables transparency in control protocols. VLANs are another option as they provide high speed and streamlined intra-office connectivity.

Going forward, the use of IT and telecom in these sectors is expected to increase further. For instance, according to a recent study by Springboard Research, IT spending by India’s education industry is expected to increase from $274.2 million in 2009 to $609.5 in 2013, at a compound an-nual growth rate of 22 per cent.

Also, technologies such as cloud computing and mobility-centric applications are expected to be widely deployed. According to the respondents, cloud computing will help streamline and simplify operations, while mobility solutions will allow these organisations to share information and data in real time across dispersed locations. It is evident that telecom and IT infrastructure has become invaluable for the education, healthcare and township segments.

tele.net surveyed various organisations/institutions in these segments to assess their specific telecom requirements and solutions.

The following questions were asked as part of the survey:

• What are the company’s key technology requirements?

• What mix of service providers and vendors is used?

• What are the biggest concerns with respect to telecom infrastructure?

• What are some of the mobility and enterprise applications that the company has implemented?

• What are the network security tools being used?

• Which redundancy tools are being used?

• Which new product or service holds the most interest or relevance for the company?

Key technology requirements

As per the survey, telecom is being used extensively to access data resources, facilitate distance education, connect to remote sites and enable information sharing.

Most companies have deployed a multi-tiered telecom set-up, which is a mix of standard technologies, and IT applications and tools. These include leased lines, MPLS, VPNs, VSATs and wireless access points.

The majority of these organisations/ institutions have set up an optic fibre-based network, which is being used simultaneously with point-to-point leased lines or MPLS. For example, the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT) has deployed an optic fibre cable backbone of 1 GB, which connects all departments. For intra-campus connectivity, a 100 Mbps copper Ethernet network is used.

Also, the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus is connected via an optic fibre network provided by Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) and Powergrid Corporation of India Limited (Powergrid).

However, these institutions use different connectivity technologies. IIFT uses two leased lines for its WAN, a 4 MB connection between the Delhi and Kolkata campuses, and a 2 MB connection between its campus in Qutab Institutional Area and its Yusuf Sarai office. Both these lines are provided by Bharti Airtel.

JNU uses MPLS links, which have been integrated to its LAN. Max Healthcare also uses MPLS as a primary connectivity medium. All hospitals are connected via MPLS under a hub-and-spoke model. Being a multi-location enterprise, the bandwidth of Max Healthcare’s network ranges from 4 Mbps to 16 Mbps at the spokes, while the bandwidth at the hub is 44 Mbps.

Enterprises such as Sobha Developers  and the Punj Lloyd Group (PLG) use multiple connectivity mediums to enable users across locations to seamlessly access the company’s corporate network. Sobha Developers, for instance, uses leased lines for its metropolitan area network, with last mile access on a wireless platform. Other technologies in use include MPLS, wireless routers and access points that support wireless mediums like Wi-Fi and VPNs.

According to Atul Kumar, chief information officer at PLG, an optic fibre network, P2P connectivity, an IP-SEC tunnel, an international MPLS platform and a secure VPN for mobile users ensure faster access to business applications, expedite the procurement process and provide real-time information on financial transactions.

All companies use wireless technologies within buildings or campuses, especially Wi-Fi connectivity. To access this network, wireless access points are used. JNU, for instance, initially deployed a wireless LAN using Wi-Fi of the 802.11n standard. The network was enhanced to support 3G on the wireless LAN by broadcasting a specific access point name.

A host of IT applications are also being used by the surveyed companies/ institutions.

For example, PLG uses the Oracle Business Suite for ERP, the Oracle Human Resources Management System, Google Applications on Cloud for email, the Primevara platform for project management and the Enterprise Content Management Documentum platform. Also in use are the “Candy” system for estimating the project size and control, the Frango application for corporate financial management and control, and engineering applications like AutoCad, StadPro and Offpipe.

IIFT has developed several enterprise applications in-house using the .NET and Sequel software platforms.

Lovely Professional University (LPU) uses an ERP solution which is based on more than 30 blade servers supplied by IBM and HP.

Max Healthcare uses a hospital information system, the SUN Accounting platform and a human resource portal.

Some organisations have also set up data centres. IIFT has a data centre which is spread across 120 square feet and has 14 servers and 8 TB of storage capacity. The facility ensures that the communications infrastructure has 99 per cent uptime and performs functions like data recovery and storage management.

Service providers and vendors

As per the survey, these companies use a mix of operators and technology vendors to meet communication-related requirements. These include MTNL, Powergrid, Software Technology Parks of India, Dell, Cisco, IDS, Oracle, Checkpoint, Bharti Airtel, Tata Communications, Vodafone India, HECL, Spectranet, Juniper, Avaya, IBM, HP, Nortel, Rukus, Reliance Communications, Tandberg, Microsoft, Polycom and Siemens.

Key issues and concerns

The surveyed companies/institutions have been facing challenges in selecting the appropriate technology for the network, reducing the implementation schedule of telecom-centric projects, connecting remote locations and integrating all systems.

For JNU, reducing the time taken for implementing telecom-centric projects is a major challenge. According to the respondent, before project implementation, the technology is required to be scrutinised as per government guidelines. These procedures entail a detailed examination of the technical requirements and specifications. Following this, the tendering procedure often takes a year to conclude. Therefore, meeting project deadlines often requires a look at the technology road map and taking decisions to implement untested standards in order to remain future ready.

Max Healthcare faces the issue of network downtime. “We sometimes face network outages for hours. This impacts our business, as we handle significant data traffic which is time-bound. Therefore, if your network fails, everything comes to a standstill,” says the respondent.

PLG has faced challenges in selecting an appropriate technology to meet its business requirements and establishing telecom infrastructure in remote areas. “We find it challenging and unfeasible to provide communications infrastructure in remote locations. Also, selecting the right technology – which was flexible and scalable, reduced operational expenses, met future demand and had the ability to carry all types of voice, video and data traffic – was difficult,” says the respondent.

Mobile and enterprise applications

Companies/Institutions in the education, construction and healthcare spaces use mobile applications such as BlackBerry devices, email, data connectivity, corporate intranet, high speed data cards and mobile-based push-and-pull solutions. JNU, for example, uses mail software which has been upgraded to Zimbra Open Source. This supports instant messaging, document sharing and archiving personal mailboxes.

Sobha Developers  uses BlackBerry devices, iPhones and iPads to access emails.

In terms of enterprise applications, the respondents use audio- and videoconferencing, web hosting, VoIP, email, instant messaging, hosted messaging and collaboration, mailing solutions and organisation domain-specific core applications. For instance, Max Healthcare uses the WorldVista platform, an open source electronic health record system.

IIFT uses the videoconferencing facility by Tandberg, a web conferencing platform provided by Microsoft via its Live Meeting package and email.

Sobha Developers uses enterprise applications such as audio-conferencing via equipment sourced from ClearOne and Polycom, videoconferencing using equipment supplied by Polycom and LifeSize, the Siemens IP EPBX solution and the Voice Logger platform for accessing enquiries related to sales.

Network redundancy

The typically used redundancy mediums include dual internet service providers (ISPs); multiple leased lines and ISDN lines; UPS; and applications like ERP, data archiving, recovery, and failover systems. IIFT, for instance, has a stable redundancy system. Its leased lines are sourced from two different ISPs.

Network security

Securing the telecom network is a key priority for these entities. Most respondents have opted for a multilayered security system.

For example, JNU uses firewalls that protect its network from hackers and balances the load from separate optic fibre networks. Moreover, a unified threat management solution has been implemented to secure the network from hackers, for filtering unnecessary traffic, streamlining traffic by specifying priorities, and blocking unwanted sites.

Max Healthcare is using the McAfee Network Security Platform and firewalls from Cisco at its network gateway. LPU is also using firewalls sourced from Avaya and Juniper.

PLG uses the McAfee antivirus management solution, Websense’s data leakage prevention solution, Checkpoint’s unified threat management platform, and the active directory application.

The way forward

These entities plan to further strengthen their communication network and deploy new technologies.

The FORE School of Management, for instance, intends to use videoconferencing and design a micro-site for students. “Videoconferencing will ensure that the lectures delivered by our professors and guest lecturers are archived in our LAN or on our website so that these can be viewed at any time by our students. Also, a micro-site (website) providing academic information will be designed, which could be accessed via mobile devices,” says the respondent.

JNU plans to increase the scope and reach of its LAN. Max Healthcare is also looking to deploy more applications. “We will implement the electronic health records system, along with business intelligence, customer relationship management and ERP software at each hospital,” says the respondent.

Meanwhile, LPU plans to use additional servers and VoIP to support its distance learning programme. The institution would also shift completely from the analog telephonic system to an IP-based system, which will offer higher reliability and speeds of communication.

Sobha Developers is looking to adopt mobile applications to provide project-related information to its customers. “We are implementing a two-stage authentication process for mobile users to connect to the corporate intranet through VPN. We also plan to integrate IP EPBX with the voice logger system to ensure that each incoming call is captured and attended,” says the respondent.

PLG plans to enable and support “business anywhere and everywhere” and leverage technology as one of the key differentiators for a competitive advantage in the market. “This journey is being completed through three stages – consolidation, success and significance, with careful adoption of cloud, mobility and other contemporary technologies,” says the respondent.

Net, net, deploying the latest telecom and IT solutions in order to ensure business continuity and to keep ahead of the competition is a priority for firms in these segments.


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