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Alstom and Cyquator: How do they store and retrieve data?

IT as an enabling tool is one of the taken-for-granted setups within most large and medium enterprises in India. Even the smaller companies have smartened up to the need for a strong IT setup. Now, the newest topic of discussion among CIOs is storage; strategy, technology, et al.

Alstom Power India Ltd.
With the realization that data and not the computer is the most important asset of an enterprise, companies are scampering for a strong storage setup. One such company is Alstom Power India Ltd., erstwhile ABB Alstom. Headquartered in New Delhi, Alstom Power specializes in turnkey engineering projects for the power industry. Its activities include designing and installing power plants, transmission and distribution systems etc. The company's power installations cover almost every state in the country.

Reincarnated as Alstom Power in May 2000, the company in its various forms has been present in the country for over 70 years. Now all the erstwhile power generation units in the country of erstwhile ASEA, English Electric, GEC, BBC (HBB), ALSTOM, Combustion Engineering, EVT, Stein, Flakt, ABL, GEC ALSTOM, ABB, ABB ALSTOM Power are under this single operational umbrella of ALSTOM Power India.

Present in 14 locations within the country, the company has manufacturing facilities including boilers in Durgapur and Shahbad, T & D equipment in Naini, Calcutta and Chennai, transport in Coimbatore and steam turbines in Vadodara. Most central government utilities such as NTPC, NHPC and Power Grid, State Electricity Boards, Indian Railways and Independent Power Producers form the chunk of Alstom Power's customers in the country.

This widespread operation and large customer base naturally requires Alstom Power India to have a strong IT infrastructure. As the company is mostly involved in designing and developing projects for the power sector, it generates huge amounts of data in the form of engineering drawings and procurement and production data.

Says, C R Narayanan, company IT manager, Alstom Power India Ltd., "Most of our projects take about three to four years. These projects are commissioned to us for a minimum of 25 years. This means not only execution of the project but also maintenance. In fact, we generate phenomenal amount of data every year and per project, which we need to refer to for at least 25 years after it is generated." In this scenario a strong storage strategy becomes imperative.

In fact, Alstom Power is one of the companies that realized the importance of a strong storage setup for business benefits. Moreover, the nature of the engineering industry also required the company to create a data storage and archiving system. Informs Narayanan, "Data storage and archiving is very important for us. Even if it is stored offline, we need to restore data very often during and after project execution. In fact, we have a policy of keeping 18 months' data available online at any given point of time. We at the IT department generally keep the data alive for 24 months; a grace period of six months to ensure a smoother running of the project."

For maintaining a data log on the network and while archiving, Narayanan follows the FIFO (first in first out) method. As newer data enters the network, older data is taken out and indexed and archived.

The Alstom Power network is quite extensive and spread out. All the 14 locations have LANs with a minimum of 30 nodes connected to the headquarters at Delhi that has a 280 node LAN via a combination of PAMA and SCPC VSATs. The Alstom Power network has a spread of 60 servers across locations and 23 servers in the head office.

The network has a multi-application environment. Applications include Oracle, SAP, Lotus Notes and other Open File System.

The network runs on different variants of Unix such as AIX, HPUX, Sun Solaris and IRIX. Says Narayanan, "For heavy AutoCAD files, we require a strong platform such as Unix." While SAP and Lotus Notes applications have been centralized, Oracle and other open file systems run on a decentralized mode being housed at servers at each location. Most of Alstom's legacy applications today are running on Oracle platform.

This kind of network has been built to handle the heavy load of data that flows through it. Narayanan and his team have designed a two-tier storage infrastructure to ensure a systematic data storage. At the headquarters, the IT team has put in IBM's Magstar tape solution including Magstar tape subsystem and Magstar Data server. At the site office and branch office level, the team has put in DLT tapes from HP for storing the data. They are also using DATs from HP to store less mission critical data both at the head quarters and location offices.

Says Narayanan, "We set about creating a separate storage infrastructure about three years ago. At that time not many technologies were available. So we decided to deploy a tape storage system. For all centralized activities we are using Magstar from IBM while for decentralized it is DLT. The engineers generally store the various versions of one drawing in the DLTs and they send over the 'As Built" drawing via the WAN to be stored in the Magstar system. We are also running a drawing management system over this network, and that helps the engineers reduce revision and rework time. Thus helping in keeping to the deadline of the project."

Narayanan decided on Magstar tape solution as he felt that it provided the best combination of data rate and access time among all the midrange and network tape storage solutions that he had seen. "The combination of fast load and fast access can extend the use of tape drive to near on-line applications. This function definitely extended the use of Magstar tape solution beyond the regular save/restore operations. Most storage devices work on a sequential basis but in Magstar maximum data read/write integrity is accomplished with third generation magneto-resistive heads and servo mechanisms for precision tracking thus it reduced the time taken to store and access data," he adds. For storage management he used Tivoli SM solution as that provided him a reliable combination.

For the decentralized storage requirement, Narayanan used DLTs as they provided a backup of as much as 80 Gb of server disk space in less than four hours. He feels that HP's DLT integrates well with Alstom's centralized storage system and provides excellent performance, reliability and compatibility while being easy to connect with advanced management and data integrity features. Says, Avijit Basu, business manager, Information Storage Group, HP India, New Delhi, "Today most Indian enterprises are using tapes for their storage requirement. In fact our DLT Tape solutions have seen a good growth in the market. Companies such as Alstom with heavy data can definitely fulfill their storage requirement with our high-end DLT Tapes."

Agreeing with Basu of HP, Narayanan says that their major storage space is taken by the 'As Built' drawings that are generated after each project. A single AutoCAD drawing can take up to 3.5 Mb. Alstom Power engineers mostly store their paper pencil drawings as scanned pictures. That tends to take up more space than AutoCAD files. According to Narayanan, a single project can eat up approximately 20Gb of storage space.

"We have already used up about 200Gb storage and the need is constantly growing. In this scenario indexing has become an important part of our storage strategy. We have also installed a DataScan application that helps in fast data indexing, locating and retrieval activities," he points out. Another area where storage system plays a major role within the organization is customer service. Narayanan describes that in customer service, the company does not only need to store information about the part of the project it executed but the complete history of the project including data from other project executors. This naturally gives rise to huge amount of data for storage.

"Sometimes accessing this data can be a big problem, but a good storage setup and policy helps us in retrofitting and improving customer sites very easily." Currently he is working out on ways to collate the data in a more compressed manner. All the storage tapes that are generated from Alstom Powers' various projects are housed at a fire proof room in a different location from the headquarter premises in New Delhi. Narayanan is quite proud of the fact that their solid storage system has helped the company resume regular operation within 48 hours after a major fire that had gutted the entire Alstom Power office.

Now the IT manager and his team are ready to look at newer storage technologies to improve the operations within the organization. Currently, the 1800 staff strong Alstom Power is in the process of standardizing its IT infrastructure. It is looking at migrating to Windows NT across locations to create a homogenous environment.

Once that is finalized, Narayanan plans to check out technologies such as storage area networks for the organization's storage requirements. "SAN is OS independent and it can work parallel to the existing network, the LAN or WAN becomes faster and provides more bandwidth for larger applications," he adds. As organizations such as Alstom Power, already with a strong storage strategy, realize the importance of storage, we will see more and more high-end technologies like SAN and NAS gaining ground in the country thus leading to more storage innovations.

Cyquator Technologies
The most important aspect of any business today is the huge quantity of information that is generated as a result of its day to day operations. Managing this information explosion has become one of the most challenging tasks in the e-economy. Thus most enterprises, irrespective of their size, are moving towards deploying technology for storing, safeguarding and retrieving vital information in the quickest and easiest manner possible. While some enterprises are investing in the necessary storage infrastructure, others are opting to outsource their storage requirements to data centers, which are mushrooming all over the country to offer web-hosting facilities.

The recently founded Cyquator Technologies Limited has set up Internet Data Centers (IDCs) across the country to offers services to those companies desiring to establish their presence on the web. Cyquator was established in May 2000 and launched its services in January 2001. Headquartered in Mumbai, with regional offices in Bangalore and New Delhi, there are about 55 people working for Cyquator. The company has about 20 trained engineers, of whom three are dedicated resources working on storage related activities.

Cyquator has set up one data center in Mumbai and planning to build two more in the course of this year. Each data center will be connected to an Internet gateway using multiple redundant E1 lines and will also be connected with leading NSPs such as UUNET, PSINET, AT&T, using an IPLC. The data centers will utilize backup satellite bandwidth from international private satellite gateways at each location. In addition, the data centers will be mesh connected with other data centers.

The network infrastructure at Cyquator is three-tiered--core, border and access. At the border layer there are high-end routers which communicate with other networks and perform packet routing. This is a fully redundant layer offering connectivity to a number of carriers. The core layer is the workhorse for the IDC, as it performs the bulk of switching, access control, optimized traffic delivery to elements within the data center. This layer is a fully redundant and secured layer. The third layer is the access layer to which servers are connected. This comprises the layer two and three switches to connect to the customers as well as to the back office infrastructure of Cyquator.

Among the various services it offers, is storage and back up facilities of unlimited critical data for small-to-medium-sized workgroups in a shared environment. Besides, Cyquator also offers web-hosting services as dedicated, shared or co-located configurations. This involves the hosting of a client's web site on the servers maintained at Cyquator. "Data storage is our business and hence we planned for storage infrastructure at the initial stages and incorporated it into the IDC design itself," points out Jitendra Israni, CTO, Cyquator Technologies Ltd.

Explaining why enterprises are willing to outsource their storage needs, Israni says, "There are a number of reasons why storage has to be external to an enterprise as growing with-in a computer has serious limitations. The cost of storage has come down but when deployed as a disaster recovery solution, the availability and reliability have become crucial. That is one reason why organizations are willingly to outsource the storage requirement to service providers under strict SLA regime. And this was our motivation to offer storage as service" points out Israni.

At Cyquator, as is with any enterprise, the debate was primarily between choosing NAS or SAN. Since NAS and SAN are two different technologies and deployed for different application, Cyquator finally choose to begin with deploying NAS products and later on complementing it with SAN.

Cyquator offers these services via the NetApp F760 box from Network Appliances, with a raw storage capacity of 3TB within a single or multiple networks. The net filer has the capability of taking 20 snapshots of the file system and storing only the changes to the file system. The entire storage infrastructure was implemented by Bangalore-based Apara Design Automation.

Besides, the VERITAS Net Back up solution along with the P1000 series based DLT tape library from ATL has been deployed for backup media handling. In addition, HP Open View tools, which integrate with the native MIBS of Netfiler and back up server have been deployed for in-house management of the infrastructure. The SNMP messages (traps) are collected by monitoring tools and the service navigator tools constantly monitor the storage infrastructure for continuous availability and performance efficiency. The initial investment on the complete storage infrastructure was close to Rs. one crore.

Israni explains that there were several technical and business imperatives that triggered the need for dedicated storage infrastructure. "Simultaneous data sharing among different environments such as windows, Unix, Linux and so on and the ease of manageability and technical support in addition to the scalability and reliability of storage infrastructure drove us to opt for storage infrastructure," points out Israni.

The business factors were the cost of the product and the total cost of ownership, he adds.

The service level agreement (SLA) offered by Cyquator involves a network uptime of 99.9 per cent with 24x7x365 basic support. Thus uptime and availability of data is of critical importance for its business. Israni explains, "The Filer 760 is quite an ideal box for service providers who are just beginning their businesses. It has built-in RAID that protects against data loss from disk failure or reduced downtime, giving users continuous access to data.

Clustered fail-over and redundant components increase reliability, while hot spares deliver maximum data availability. Disk scrubbing ensures data integrity and the battery-backed NVRAM provides additional data protection. In addition, the SLA from our systems integrator gives us 99.9 per cent uptime."

Cuquator is currently running its message store, and managed storage for shared hosting from the storage. It plans to deploy dedicated memory (storage) for enterprises, which will host their servers with Cyquator. Cyquator will also offer disaster recovery services to companies that will run their mission critical applications from the servers hosted in Cyquator.

Security of clients' data is a decisive factor for the success and survival of business at Cyquator. "Enterprises store mission critical data on our servers. Thus we have given great importance to ensure that data is secure and isolated," notes Israni. With this in mind, Cyquator's storage infrastructure sits behind managed firewalls, thus offering total protection from any unauthorized access or intrusions. Within the box, there are features that provide total isolation between different customers who are using this infrastructure. In addition, Cyquator also has an on-line intrusion detection system in place, for monitoring and preventing any undesired access.

Even as technology is changing rapidly and enterprises are growing and expanding their presence to cater to a wider user base, scalability is one factor enterprises have to keep in mind while choosing any technology.

"Whether you have a small number of users or an enterprise of thousands, the storage system scales from 50GB to multiple terabytes to cater to your growing capacity requirements. Thus we have achieved virtually unlimited data storage capacity," explains Israni. With additional PCI slots, expanding storage and network connectivity is quick and easy. "In addition to scalability within the box, we can grow horizontally by adding more boxes and making it a full cluster for added reliability," adds Israni.

At Cyquator, storage explosion has just begun. "We will constantly evaluate newer technologies and invest in those that will meet our requirements, from both the technical and business perspectives. In a couple of years we will invest in Storage Area Networks (SAN), in addition to expanding our Network Attached Storage (NAS) infrastructure," points out Israni.

NM - Priyanka Bhattachary and Shubha Murthy

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