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BHEL Deploys Gigabit At The Desktop

With robust voice, video and data transactions becoming crucial to organizations in their effort to improve their business processes and expand their reach, Gigabit Ethernet (GE), the evolutionary phase of Ethernet and Fast Ethernet, has become a cost-effective and easy to upgrade solution. Though initially GE was being deployed by most organizations only at the backbone, large organizations such as Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) are discovering the benefits of deploying it for desktop connectivity.

BHEL, one of the largest engineering enterprises and foremost power plant equipment manufacturers, has in its portfolio over 180 products related to the power transmission industry, transportation, oil and gas, non-conventional energy sources and telecommunication.

With 14 manufacturing divisions, eight service centers and four power sector regional centers, BHEL's project sites are spread across the country and the world, with regional operations divisions in various state capitals in India.

BHEL in association with Tata Elxsi, a Bangalore-based IT company, deployed a Gigabit Ethernet for LAN connectivity at its Heavy Electricals Equipment Plant (HEEP) at Haridwar, with an investment of about 250-Lakhs.

The Heavy Electricals Equipment Plant (HEEP) located in Haridwar, north India, is one of the major manufacturing plants of BHEL. The core business of HEEP includes design and manufacture of large steam and gas turbines, turbo generators, hydro turbines and generators, large AC/DC motors and so on.

"IT is used extensively for design development, engineering calculations, computerized drafting, issue of manufacturing information and for a number of on-line business applications," points out Ashok Bhatnagar, additional general manager, head of Information Technology Center, HEEP, Haridwar.

Pre-LAN Scenario
The earliest infrastructure that could be called a network was a thick Ethernet-based network covering primarily the engineering departments, which was used basically for implementation of network floating licenses of software and for sharing of costly resources such as large size printers and plotters.

Prior to the implementation of the LAN, RS232-based connections from PCs and Vt-220 Terminals to servers through telephone cables served the purpose of a network at HEEP. This comprised of several serial connections and four segments of thick 10 Base 5 coaxial cable network spanning about 1500 meters. Ten Mbps bandwidth was shared amongst more than 150 nodes. "It was not fast by any standards and definitely not fast Ethernet. Still at the heart it was Ethernet, following the same rules for connectivity," points out Bhatnagar of HEEP.

"Line drivers were used in abundance and data was carried across on floppies, as there was no computer connectivity. Hence, on-line computer applications were limited," he adds.

Explaining the factors that prompted the need for a robust and well designed network, Bhatnagar says, "Maintaining these networks was difficult because even a single malfunctioning transceiver would bring down the entire network. The transfer of graphical data from the central storage and running of certain applications across shared disk space was slow. In spite of the problems this network proved to be a good training ground for the users and the IT staff."

Besides, since the connections were mostly on serial lines, web-based applications were not feasible. The business applications therefore operated mainly in terminal mode.

Bangalore-based systems integrator, Tata Elxsi Ltd. designed and implemented the Gigabit Ethernet LAN at BHEL's HEEP, in July 2000. "The high-speed LAN at BHEL's HEEP is the biggest campus network in the country," says Madhukar Dev, VP-Marketing, Tata Elxsi, Bangalore.

Tata Elxsi is an information technology company, and part of the $10 billion Tata Group, with expertise in system design, development and integration. It offers systems integration solutions to the Indian market and design and development services to the international market.

"Tata Elxsi was involved in the project right from its inception and design stages. We took almost two years to design and plan the implementation strategy", points out Anirban Chowdhury, corporate manager, marketing, Tata Elxsi. The implementation team comprising of five people was spearheaded by G.V.Singh, the then head-customer support, Tata Elxsi, New Delhi.

The network was implemented on Nortel Networks' switches and routers, and cabling from BICC, UK.

The network exceeds 75 km. of cable length, including 17 km of high-speed fiber optic cable from BICC Brand Rex of UK. Closer buildings are connected with six core, 50 micro multi-mode fiber. The fiber connectivity for the other buildings is single mode fiber, enabling longer fiber segments.

Network Topology
Tata Elxsi configured the high-end LAN using Nortel Networks' layer 3 switches, connected in a mesh topology. "Having decided to go in for Gigabit solution, the next thing was selecting active components, deciding on the number of switches and their locations," says Anirban.

The topology features a three-tier architecture including two 'layer 3' tiers and a single tier of layer 2 switches to the desktops. The main switches are based on recent advances in ASIC's capabilities. These switches combine layer 2 switching with layer 3 routing capabilities, giving low latency path through the network for streaming applications such as video and voice traffic.

"They support multiple QoS levels to deliver extremely low latency for the priority traffic, even when switching or routing at millions of packets per second," explains G.V. Singh. These switches have hot swappable modules, which reduce network disruption during module replacement and offer failsafe redundancy to protect against faults and failures. They feature a cost-effective modular design, enabling them to be configured with a limited number of modules at the time of deployment. Additional modules can be added as the network requirement increases.

The three central switches of the LAN are provided with redundant switching fabric, redundant CPU, and failsafe backbone implemented at the core of the network. "There is enough redundancy incorporated at each stage of the design," says Anirban.

"The LAN is a blend of the most advanced technology available with robust and failsafe design. The network is designed keeping in view the data traffic requirements of a huge organization such as BHEL for the next eight-10 years," points out Anirban of Tata Elxsi.

Scalability has been achieved by the provision of space for additional switches in the existing panels. The same network can be extended to 2,000 nodes from the present capacity of 1,250 nodes by putting additional switches/ports in existing panels in future. "The main design criteria of this network has been reliability and scalability," explains Madhukar Dev.

The network enables managers to create up to 127 port or policy based VLANs. Membership in workgroup segments can be determined logically instead of user location based grouping and changes can be easily configured as the network envelopes standard based VLANs. Trunking on all ports allows multiple logical links on a single interface between switches or between switches and multiple servers.

A firewall has been installed to protect the network from external intrusion. Besides, VLANs have been implemented to segregate the network into smaller domains and restrict traffic. A network management server constantly monitors the activity on the network and controls unwarranted nodes/traffic.

The network is managed in an integrated environment with the Nortel Networks Optivity Campus network management software.

The network seamlessly connects the business servers, CAD/CAM infrastructure, numerous desktop computers spread across the plant, hospitals, shop floors, DNC systems and NC Machines as servers and clients. The LAN connects a total of about 1,350 nodes, which include Windows-based PCs, IRIX-based engineering workstations and about 16 Unix, IRIX and Windows NT-based servers, spread across the entire plant.

The HEEP is integrated with the other BHEL units through HV NET (satellite link). Initially, connectivity was limited to only some of the nodes in the plant. However, presently this is available to every desktop and is used primarily for sharing of information and data of common interest--for instance, material inventory, collaborative engineering for products to be supplied to common customers--with other units.

Why Gigabit And Not ATM?
Bhatnagar of HEEP explains that initially there was a lot of debate on which was better: Gigabit or ATM? After going through a number of presentations, discussions and white papers, HEEP opted for Gigabit. Familiarity with Ethernet network was one major point in favor of GE.

Rationalizing the reasons for choosing Gigabit, Bhatnagar explains, "For us it meant no additional training for users and maintenance staff. On the cost front too, as per our understanding, a pure Ethernet network worked out to be cheaper as compared to the nearest ATM solution. In addition, for our kind of environment, involving mainly data transfer, we did not really need the QoS feature. This feature is required for real time applications such as audio and video conferencing and is considered a plus point for ATM over Gigabit."

Further, Bhatnagar found that opting for the ATM solution did not mean ATM right up to the desktop. Conversion of cells to frames was necessary at some stage, to make it compatible with the network cards in existing desktops.

Presently the GE LAN is being used for the following applications:
Engineering Area:

  • SDRC IDEAS for CAD/CAE, ANSYS for FEA and Autocad for drafting.
  • Primavera for project management.
  • Motiva for drawing management.

Business Area:

  • Ingres RDBMS.
  • Business applications covering material management, material receipts, inventory planning and control, issue of manufacturing information, dispatch, invoicing etc. have been developed by an in-house team.
  • In addition there is an intranet site including a knowledge base for information sharing. E-mail, connectivity to other units of BHEL, connectivity to the Internet are other applications. In the future ERP will also be run on this network.

Hurdles Crossed...
For Tata Elxsi, designing and implementing the GE LAN for HEEP, BHEL was a far more complicated and challenging task as compared to designing a layout for a regular office building. HEEP's geography, with massive manufacturing blocks, huge machines, live high-voltage cables and working overhead cranes made the implementation process a very dangerous and arduous task.

The huge span of the plant area and structural constraints in the sheds further complicated the task. "Many sections of cables running at a height of nearly 15 meters from the ground level had to be welded in the close vicinity of high-tension electric cables and operating cranes. Our installation team was exposed to such risks," explains Anirban from Elxsi.

Finding proper cabling routes up to desktops and arranging suitable power supply points for the network switch panels, in such terrain, was the most difficult task for the Elxsi team. A lot of coordination with various internal agencies of HEEP was an imperative.

"In addition the operation consumed considerably more time than anticipated as heavy rains hampered civil work and posed a major problem resulting in delays," he adds.

The network is capable of handling data, voice and video with ease and of supporting advanced technologies and facilities such as video conferencing, transfer and fast access of large data over the LAN and via the WAN, and the Internet. "This will help a large organization such as BHEL computerize its business processes in totality and bring total operations of the organization on-line including implementation of advanced applications such as ERP, Web-enabled Internet/intranet applications, Object Oriented Databases etc. This has enabled us to take the intranet and Internet culture to every desktop," points out Bhatnagar.

It is surprising that BHEL, despite being a public sector unit has deployed a gigabit Ethernet LAN, one of the latest technologies in the market in India today, considering the fact that hardly any privately owned corporates or even MNCs, have considered this option. NM

The major business applications that are on-line and integrated:

  • Order processing, product planning, manufacture, packing list, dispatch list, invoicing etc.
  • Material planning, indent generation, purchase order, material receipt, document retirement, issue and storage.
  • SRV pricing, product costing, finance and so on.
  • Systems related to personnel, HRD, payroll processing
  • Miscellaneous applications such as e-mail, drawing management and the intranet web site for information sharing
    is also fully operational.

Benefits accrued Primary benefits

  • Reduction of non-production time, through on-line data entry and availability of information on demand.
  • Integration of functions through use of IT
  • Sharing of computer resources,
  • Deployment of web technology based applications,
  • Use of network floating licenses for software, which reduces the cost.
  • Implementation of centralised data storage and backup,
  • Central printing of all drawings
  • Storage of all documents on electronic media for ease of updation. Digitisation of data from a number of online applications, for future connectivity to the outside world.
  • Deployment of new technical and biz applications such as CAD-CAM integration

Shubha Murthy can be reached at shubha_m24@hotmail.com

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