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Smooth Sailing: Telecom initiatives streamline operations at SCI

August 31, 2011
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The Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) was established in 1961 through the amalgamation of the Eastern Shipping Corporation and Western Shipping Cor-poration. Starting as a marginal liner shipping company with 19 vessels, SCI today owns and operates around one-third of the Indian tonnage. It operates in all areas of the shipping business, servicing both national and international trades.

As business grew, SCI recognised the need for upgraded, top-of-the-line communication infrastructure in order to enhance productivity and improve network connectivity. It opted for a multi-tiered IT and telecom set-up that provided robust connectivity and reduced downtime.

tele.net tracks the development of SCI’s telecom and IT set-up...


Computerisation at SCI started in 1971 with the installation of IBM 1401 with Autocoder. Several projects such as financial accounting, payroll and other technical and commercial applications were designed and developed in-house.

SCI discarded the IBM 1401 system in 1980 and projects began to be redesigned using COBOL as the programming language. Also, SCI started hiring computer time from external data centres using DG and VAX11 systems. Thereafter, the IBM 4381 mainframe system was deployed in-house and the company’s various projects were migrated to the mainframe.

With the implementation of a local area network (LAN) and HP Unix in 2000, many projects were re-engineered using FoxPro, Oracle D2K and MF Cobol, which were used till January 2011.

The shift

As the company’s legacy systems were spread over various platforms, it became necessary for SCI to implement an end-to-end process, using applications and products with integration and scalability capabilities. SCI selected Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) to study the situation and implement a suitable solution.

The company moved to a multi-tiered communications set-up. It installed a LAN that supports network connectivity speeds in the gigabit range as well as a wide area network (WAN) based on an MPLS backbone to connect all the company’s offices and point-to-point high speed links between the data centre and the head office.

At the Mumbai-based head office, the Kolkata office and the Delhi office, SCI uses a wireline connection as a primary link and a wireless link as a secondary link. The total bandwidth is 10 Mbps, 2 Mbps and 512 kbps respectively. At the company’s Powai and Chennai offices, two wireline links are used, one provided by a third party, and the total bandwidth is 8 Mbps and 2 Mbps respectively. At SCI’s Haldia office, two wireless connections are used, one provided by a third party, with a total capacity of 512 kbps. At the Port Blair office, a link provided by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited is used as the primary link, while an ISDN two-line connection is used as a secondary link. The total bandwidth is 256 kbps.

An in-house data centre with state-of-the-art technology is also used at SCI’s Powai office. It started functioning in January 2010 and is managed by Wipro. The data centre has server hardware, Citrix infrastructure and infrastructure servers. It ensures storage and server back-up, supports various enterprise management solutions; and ensures adequate networking and network security.

SCI also uses managed leased line services. It has three such connections, all originating from Nariman Point to MDC and Worli in Mumbai. Two of these links terminate at MDC, one on a primary MPLS router and the second on a secondary MPLS router. The former is a primary leased line connection of 300 Mbps speed and the other is a back-up 51.8 Mbps leased line. The link that terminates at Worli is a primary leased line connection of 10 Mbps and the link is terminated on a primary MPLS router at SCI’s head office. There is a separate router at Worli.

To connect to the internet, SCI uses two links. The first is at SCI’s head office and comprises a primary wireline link and a secondary wireless link with a combined speed of 8 Mbps. The second is at Powai and comprises two wireline links with a combined speed of 12 Mbps.

A host of load balanced, high availability servers are used. The allotted disk space is 28 TB, which includes production set-up activities, quality set-up activities and disk-to-disk back-up. SCI uses Veritas net back-up software and a Sun StorageTek SL 500 tape library. For network security, an internal firewall provided by Cisco is used, while the external firewall is provided by IPS-IBM.

According to B.V. Meshram, vice-president, IT at SCI, the network’s various applications cost about Rs 700 million with five years of vendor support.

Challenges and advantages

The company encountered several challenges while upgrading its communication infrastructure. These included working with a limited budget, selecting the right technology and vendor, limited manpower, and problems with installation and delivery of materials.

However, the new set-up provided it several benefits including high network availability; security; faster access to the company’s network; better service delivery to ships, shippers and consignees; prompt payments to vendors; better cost control; quick preparation of financial reports; as well as faster availability of data and reports.

Going forward, SCI plans to implement additional functions such as business planning continuity as well as set up a disaster recovery centre. It also intends to opt for security audits and certification.

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