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Samtel Picture Perfect With Linux

As the Linux juggernaut starts rolling, questions are being raised whether it will be the operating system that most enterprises will opt for. Samtel Group, one of the leading integrated picture tube manufacturers, has become one of the early adopters of this technology. It has successfully implemented Linux as one of its networking platforms and today the company can boast of a widespread stable network.

Samtel Group was conceptualized in 1973 "to create the perfect picture tubes" as the company claims. It set up its first black and white picture tube production unit in 1974 in Ghaziabad. Since then the group has branched out into five separate companies, each specializing in different spheres of the cathode ray tube industry. It also manufactures monitors for PCs, open frames and VGA monitors. Today, the company is spread across eight locations and has manpower of more than 5,000.

Besides manufacturing picture tubes for computer monitors and televisions, the company has also diversified into manufacturing tubes for industrial, security, medical and military applications.

Till about two years ago, Samtel did not have the sophisticated network that it has today. Its operations were spread across nine locations and various units, plus sales and marketing teams across the country. Most of these units in Parwanoo, Kota, Bhiwadi, Ghaziabad, Pondicherry and Faridabad were isolated local area network (LAN) islands. The networks were very basic, running on Novell NetWare and Windows NT as the network platform and some commercial applications developed in-house.

Early in 2000, the company decided to completely revamp its IT setup. The IT team headed by Manoranjan Kumar, divisional manager (Corporate IT), Samtel, and his team of 17, brainstormed for a month to create a new design for the network. To begin with, the company engaged Himachal Futuristic Communications Ltd. (HFCL) to setup its wide area network (WAN) using PAMA VSAT links. While all the units were connected to the main center in Ghaziabad, which also houses the data center, the three units in and around the city including Faridabad were connected via radio frequency links provided by MakSat. "Since the setting up of the WAN, the communication system within the units has improved drastically and data and information flow has been regularized," says Kumar.

Besides the VSAT based WAN, Kumar also implemented a Virtual Private Network (VPN), specially for Samtel's colour monitor venture called Systems Division of Samtel India Ltd. "The VPN was deployed for the sales and marketing personnel of this division, as they travel a lot and need to be in constant touch with the head office," adds Kumar.

Today, the company's network comprises of 28 servers connecting more than 900 nodes. Most of the servers are HP and IBM, while the workstations are HP, IBM and bunch of assembled machines. Except for manufacturing and production department, the administrative, sales and marketing departments have a 1:1 ratio of nodes per person.

To run this extended network, Kumar and his team deployed a combination of Unix, Windows NT, Novell NetWare 5 and Linux operating systems to create the network platform for the various applications that the organization needs. Informs Kumar, "The Unix platform is being used to run our Oracle database applications, that have been developed by the IT team at Samtel. Windows NT is our mail server and we are running Lotus cc mail for our communication needs. We are using Linux for all our Internet-based applications and our intranet is running on this platform."

In fact, while drawing the blueprint for the revamped network, Kumar and his team decided to go for Linux instead of Windows NT as the platform for intranet applications for Linux has the capability to support higher number of clients than Windows NT. "If the number of clients exceeds a certain limit, NT does not perform as well as Linux does, especially when running Internet-based applications. It also provides more security than NT. While in NT we have to implement external security firewalls, in Linux it is already built into the system," says Kumar, explaining why he used Linux for intranet applications. He now plans to port the company's GroupWare applications on to the Linux platform as it is more stable and has more power to take the kind of load. The project is expected to be over by July this year.

Like most IT managers, Kumar was also attracted by the cost effectiveness of deploying Linux. "We were able to save up to Rs. 2 to 3 lakhs per annum in maintenance-related costs," he adds. According to him, upgrades on Linux are easier to deploy than on any other traditional network operating system (NOS).

Currently the company is using Red Hat Linux.

Delhi-based TGK India has developed and deployed the Linux applications for Samtel. Kumar and his team are now working on Linux based routing that they would finally deploy at Samtel's Ghaziabad unit. "This way we save cost on investing in a high-end router from Cisco. With Linux we are able to turn a simple PC into a router. For the three locations that are connected to Ghaziabad on RF link, switching of their data packets are to be done through the Linux based router that we are currently testing," says Kumar. He also adds that this kind of experimentation is not possible on traditional systems like NT.

A lot might be possible with Linux, but as Kumar points out, support on Linux today is not readily available. As TGK India has already provided the applications to Samtel, Kumar is confident about support from them for their various Linux applications. He feels that once support on Linux becomes readily available, it will be deployed in a bigger way within various organizations. Moreover, while implementing the network, Kumar wanted to deploy Linux even in the messaging system, but as the management had already spent money on Lotus applications, his plans could not be executed.

He points out, "Deploying Linux in the messaging system would have made our network more efficient and the cost would have been lower. Today, because of Lotus cc mail on NT, we have to spend Rs. 5 lakh per annum and it is a recurring cost. But in the case of Linux, the one time cost of deployment would have been just Rs. 1 lakh."

Samtel spends a whopping Rs. 1 crore on IT and network infrastructure. As the network and application versions are all new, the company this year would spend lesser than last year. For networking only, the company spends a little more than 20 percent every year.

"As the company's network grows, more and more applications will be transferred on to the Linux platform," says Kumar. But it will not be the only platform, as most organizations such as Samtel need to have a heterogeneous environment.

Today, even though Linux is more enterprise-ready, as we have seen in Samtel, it is still being primarily deployed for Internet/intranet applications. Gradually, as Linux begins to offer Samtel more and more cost effective and innovative solutions, it is expected to take over the entire Samtel network sooner or later. NM

Priyanka Bhattacharya can be reached at priya_b@email.com


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