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Picture Perfect With Linux
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
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
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org