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Ranbaxy: from Wired to Wireless

Pharmaceutical major, Ranbaxy, has recently deployed a wireless LAN infrastructure solution to enable top executives the power of seamless access to data.

At the forefront in latest-technology usage, Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd., headquartered in New Delhi, is deploying a full-fledged wireless local area network within the organization. Since the early seventies, the pharmaceutical major has been a heavy investor in new and latest technology. Today, it boasts of a heterogeneous network that spans across the globe.

Upgrading to new technology has been part of the agenda of coping with the ever increasing competition in the pharmaceutical industry. After establishing itself as a manufacturer of bulk drugs and formulations, Ranbaxy has now established itself as a research oriented organization. Over the last fiscal its R&D spending has gone up by 24.5 per cent to Rs 54.9 crore. The company has posted a turnover of Rs 1,741 crore in the fiscal 2000, ending December.

Over the last few years Ranbaxy has been working on various collaborative research projects to bring out better drugs. Helping the company in its move towards a better growth path, is information technology. It has been an early adapter to the computer culture.

Today the company spends more than 1.5 per cent of its annual turnover in enhancing its IT infrastructure. When the company started its operations, it built a strong IT infrastructure using mini computers, very popular then. Mini computers were primarily used for drug research and development activities that Ranbaxy was involved in.

The 90s saw Ranbaxy adopting the concept of networking, when it was being popularized as the business tool for the next generation. The IT team built Ethernet LANs running SCO Unix in each and every branch office and R&D centers within the country. But the headquarters in New Delhi had to be integrated. So the IT department decided to set up a 1000 node campus wide network to connect four buildings in Nehru Place, a commercial complex in the city. They used UTP Cat 5 cabling for the 10 Mbps Ethernet network.

In 1994, the company planned to link all the factories through VSATs. The then IT manager decided to use RABMN (remote area business management network), the first VSAT scheme promoted by the BSNL (erstwhile DoT) for business houses to connect their offices in Chennai, Mumbai, and Hyderabad. Later the company took six TDMA VSATs from Hughes Escorts Communication Ltd. to connect the factories to the head office.

Meanwhile the applications being run on the network also evolved. From just running financial and accounting packages developed inhouse, it also became the platform for Lotus Notes GroupWare that made collaborative computing a reality within the
organization.

Two years ago the company decided to combine the two functions of strategic planning and information services. It invested around Rs 400 million to implement an ERP solution SAP R/3. This also meant beefing up the network. So the company invested in PAMA VSATs from Bharti BT to increase the bandwidth. Meanwhile the IT team also installed fiber optic cables for faster data access. The company migrated from 10Mbps to 100Mbps switched Ethernet. Along with that the IT manager also changed the OS platform from Novell NetWare to Windows NT. Over the last one year, Ranbaxy has also added a VPN to its network design. It has availed Sify's VPN solution.

As the company's network evolved, so did the requirements increase. The latest in line is the deployment of wireless LANs to empower the senior level executives in the organization. The IT team started with an evaluation plan for the feasibility of deploying WLANs in the organization. It appointed Delhi-based system integrator, Infotec Network Systems to carry out the pilot project.

Says Vivek Mahajan, director, Infotec Network, "In the pilot project we decided to set up four access points in their Nehru Place office and provided as many PCMCIA cards that allow the user equipment to connect to the access points, which in turn are wired to the network switches within the premise."

Ranbaxy opted for Lucent's WaveLAN products that include Wavepoint II access point and Orinaco PCMCIA cards to create a WLAN. For the pilot project the company spent about Rs 200,000. Explaining the network design for wireless, Vijay Sethi, manager business solutions, Ranbaxy, says, "We installed the access points across the building and one was specifically put in the conference room. This was done with the view to test the efficiency of wireless networking for corporate usage. The other accesses were mostly given to senior executives who had laptops and were on the move most of the time." The current set-up covered nearly 120 meters within the premise in Nehru Place.

The WLAN was able to run all the mission critical applications that included indigenously developed application, SAP, and regular applications being run on the wired network. The WLAN was able to handle the collaborative computing environment that existed in Ranbaxy's network. After the success of the pilot project, Sethi now plans to extend the wireless network. He plans to invest in buying nearly 40 Access Points to connect more users within organizations. He also plans to extend the network to their Gurgaon plant.

While so far the technology has not created any major hassles, Sethi and his team had trouble aligning the end user wireless equipment to the end user wireline equipment. Says Sethi, "While we were able to connect the laptops, which are IBM ThinkPad 770, we were not able to connect the desktops to the access points. We are trying to find desktops with PCMCIA compatibility."

But this hasn't deterred Sethi from planning for future investments in WLAN infrastructure.

This time, access to WLAN will not be limited to the senior management. "We will use the WLAN infrastructure to give connectivity to the new employees and extend the network to newer premises in Delhi. The reason is that it is easier to configure, and we are able to avoid the extra cost incurred for laying cables." He plans to stick to WaveLAN products to expand his LAN and WLAN.

As Ranbaxy expands its line of business and areas of research and development, so does it continue to expand its network to increase efficiency. With more and more investment in latest technologies like WLAN, it aims to translate its network into a robust and dependable computing backbone across the enterprise that deploys an integrated suite of applications that cut across functions and covers all areas of Ranbaxy's business and operations. NM

Priyanka Bhattacharya can be reached at priyanka_b@email.com

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