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 Home > Case Study - Onida's Redundant Connectivity
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Redundant connectivity: an owner's pride

K. Ramaswamy, CIO, MIRC Electronics, has made sure that his network is 'always on' and a user at every location has multiple connectivity options. Multiple redundancies make a network dependable and the CIO, a proud owner. by Soutiman Das Gupta

MIRC Electronics Limited (MEL), the maker of the Onida brand of TVs has grown a number of connectivity options in its backyard. There are VSAT links, leased lines, VPN links, ISDN links, RF (Radio Frequency) links, and dialup links. The company is now able to share its SAP R/3 data among 140 users across 38 locations nationwide without the fear of losing valuable transaction and operations data in a communications breakdown.

Since MEL runs an ERP which demands data be available all the time and has users sprinkled in multiple locations nationwide, it had to ensure multiple connectivity options. And the initiative has paid off very well.

"The multiple options provide us near 100 percent uptime and availability. This is very vital because our factory, head office, branch offices, and depots are scattered all over the country. And since we use an ERP to consolidate operations, a loss of connectivity for a few minutes can result in significant losses," said Ramaswamy.

INITIAL connectivity
MEL was founded in 1981 and began computerization five years ago by deploying LANs at various locations with CAT 5 structured cabling. RF links were deployed in a couple of years between its offices in Mumbai and Thane to share information.

The RF links connect the HO (Head Office) to two locations in Mumbai, the Mumbai branch office and the Onida Infotech building. Bandwidth on the RF links is 1.5 Mbps and they are backed up with dialup links. The RF equipment includes wireless transceivers and wireless modems from Wi-LAN.

"RF is a very reliable means of connectivity because it offers five nines (99.999 percent) availability making it almost zero-defective. Ever since we have used RF, there has hardly been any downtime. Leased lines between such short distances would have been much more expensive," claimed Ramaswamy.

In April 1999, SAP R/3 was introduced to facilitate operations and the company felt that it had to ensure an 'always on' environment. This initiative drove the company to connect all its locations with reliable and scalable links which provide room for redundancy and backup.


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More connectivity
"The VSAT option was definitely driven by the ERP's need to be always connected. Our manufacturing unit is at Wada in Thane (near Mumbai). And there are no reliable land line connectivity routes to the location since it's rather remote," said Ramaswamy. MEL has connected the HO with its manufacturing plant and its service center at Vasai in Thane district, on the outskirts of Mumbai. The manufacturing plant uses 32 Kbps PAMA (Permanent Assigned Multiple Access) and the service center uses 8 Kbps TDMA (Time Division Multiple Access) technologies. HCL Comnet is the VSAT service provider. A 64K ISDN backup links the HO with the service center.

“When we got down to consider whether to use a VPN or a VSAT, we had ruled out VSAT because it was almost twice as costly as the VPN route. But now the cost of VSAT connectivity has reduced dramatically and is almost the same as managed VPNs. So we decided upon the choice according to the one which best serves the business and technology needs,” said Ramaswamy.

A VPNet VSU 100R at the HO connects to the Internet through a 256 Kbps port and a backup port of 128 Kbps. The VPNet VSU (VPN Service Unit) is a hardware gateway which allows remote users to connect to the enterprise network securely. This helps to connect the company's 20 branches and 21 depots nationwide and any remote user who might like to access the company's servers. The depots have 56K modems at its end and use dialup links. Remote users use laptops and dialup links. The VPN uses hardware from Avaya and has been implemented by ADINO Telecom Ltd., an MEL group company. "Our VPN project is probably the largest site-to-site leased line-based implementation in India," claimed Ramaswamy.

MEL uses HCL Infinet's network to support a 64 Mbps leased line which connects to 20 branch offices nationwide. Each link is backed up with 128K ISDN links. The company also uses the service provider's VPN for security. A firewall sits between the mail server at the HO and the Internet. A 128K DSL and a backup 64K DSL link help make the connection.

The company earlier had a PAMA link between the HO and the New Delhi office. It has recently migrated the link to a VPN. The bandwidth is 32 Kbps and will soon be doubled due to expected higher data traffic.

"We have married pre-SAP legacy networking connectivity needs like RF into post-SAP methodology like VSATs and leased lines. By doing so, we have built the most reliable options to meet connectivity needs," claimed Ramaswamy.

Design
When the company started operations, it did not have a roadmap, which could tell the number of offices, locations, and users likely to be supported in future. This made the task of creating a network design philosophy difficult. But the difficulty was sufficiently neutralized due to a number of basic design considerations that were made.

All company locations were cabled with CAT 5 and later CAT 6+. "Switches have been preferred over hubs because whenever multiple users are connected to a hub there's packet loss. There are filters, firewalls, and a VPN to address any security breach concerns," explained Ramaswamy.

The various connectivity options are managed with a suite of network management software. Some of the software has been developed in-house and some are out-of-the-box products. The software continuously monitors each network device at every location for throughput and performance. In case of a drop in performance levels, the system issues e-mail and SMS warnings. The portion of the network outsourced to HCL is managed by HCL's NOC (Network Operations Center).

The next connectivity stage
The various connectivity options have extended the scope for newer enterprise applications and functions in the network. In future, the company wants to introduce functionalities that will use the ERP backbone.

"Pretty soon we will develop in-house CRM applications to facilitate our customer base of 680,000. We will use a lot of information that run EAIs (Enterprise Application Interfaces). And there will be certain elements of SCM extended to our vendors. We also plan B2B functions to increase the pace of the procurement cycle and simplify logistics and transport management.

MEL has configured its routers and switches to handle VoIP traffic. Now that VoIP has been legalised, the company hopes to send voice traffic across its network.

"The VPN route will perhaps be outdated in the near future with OFC (Optical fiber Cable) and Broadband technologies around the corner. A new technology may possibly emerge which will provide higher bandwidth and push data around at a more economical rate," said Ramaswamy.

The company
MIRC Electronics was founded in 1981 and manufactures the popular Onida brand of TV sets. The company has 140 users across 38 locations nationwide and runs SAP R/3 ERP.

The need
The ERP application needs to have the factory, head office, and other key locations to be 'always on' in order to share data. The company does not want to lose valuable transaction and operations data in a communications breakdown.

The solution
After careful consideration the company has deployed multiple connectivity options in its network. There are VSAT links, leased lines, VPN links, ISDN links, RF (Radio Frequency) links, and dialup links.

The benefits
Every location enjoys uninterrupted connectivity and each link is adequately backed up for reliability. The company can go ahead with its future plan of deploying CRM, SCM, and VoIP without worrying about connectivity.

Soutiman Das Gupta can be reached at soutimand@networkmagazineindia.com

 
     
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