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Issue of November 2002 
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Case Study: BPCLs VPN Implementation
The VPN way to go

BPCL needed to extend ERP access to its remote locations and partners. It decided to go the VPN way and implemented a high-end VPN appliance-based solution. by Prashant L. Rao

Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) is one of the largest and most successful petroleum companies in India. It has several nationwide locations connected through redundant levels of connectivity and is the first public sector oil company to implement an ERP.

The company needed a solution that would allow it to extend ERP (SAP R/3) access to its remote locations and partners who didn't need or couldn't afford a leased line or VSAT link. The answer was to use VPN over dial-up links, a cost-effective solution. The company did a pilot implementation with a low-end VPN product from Cisco. It was satisfied with the results and decided to deploy a high-end VPN concentrator from Cisco.

In a nutshell

The Company
Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) is one of the largest and most successful petroleum companies in India. It has several nationwide locations connected through redundant levels of connectivity and is the first public sector oil company to implement an ERP solution.
The Problem
Providing access to SAP at remote locations or partner sites where leased line or VSAT was not an option.
The Solution
The company went for Cisco's 3030 VPN concentrator at the central office that supports up to 1500 concurrent tunnels.
The Benefits
Faster deployment, low cost of operations, scalable solution, huge savings on money that would otherwise have gone toward expensive VSAT/leased lines.

The VPN option
"BPCL wanted a cost effective technology and it evaluated various options like VSAT and leased line connections. The objective was to connect remote locations which didn't need to be connected throughout the day. Therefore a VPN solution was useful," said Vishwanath Iyer, Principal Consultant, Cisco India.

According to A K Kaushik, DGM - IS Infrastructure, BPCL, "VPN was opted over dedicated media including leased lines for many reasons. Telephone exchanges at most remote locations do not have equipment that supports leased/ISDN lines. It takes a long time to commission dedicated media and the cost of doing so is very high."

"BPCL's bandwidth requirements were very low at its remote locations. Even 9.6 Kbps was sufficient for carrying out SAP transactions over a VPN link. Connectivity was required for a maximum of four hours per day, depending on the type and load of location. A faster rollout of SAP was also required at these VPN locations. SAP rollouts were normally carried out on the first of the month. Up to 30 rollouts were planned every month across the country."

Appliance-based option
BPCL evaluated various options before selecting Cisco's VPN solution. "We had two options, a software-based and an appliance-based VPN solution. Software based VPNs are offered by Computer Associates and CheckPoint and appliance-based solutions are offered by Nortel and Cisco. We preferred an appliance-based solution because a software-based solution would have increased the load on our firewalls," said Kaushik.

BPCL implemented Cisco's VPN 3030 Concentrator. It's a VPN platform for medium and large enterprises with bandwidth requirements from T1/E1 through fractional T3. The concentrator supports up to 1500 simultaneous sessions. It offers hardware acceleration and is field-upgradeable to the 3060. Redundant and non-redundant configurations are also available for the product. The 3030 range also comes with additional features that take care of authentication and manages all users according to their profiles/job functions.

Implementing a nation-wide VPN
Cisco has implemented a nation-wide VPN for BPCL. This VPN has been deployed between 120 BPCL partners (Carry and Forward (C&F) Agents, commission operated depots, hospitality locations, and dispatch units) in over 100 cities across the country.

The VPN rollout began in November 2001 and completed by March 2002. New locations were added to the VPN network as and when they needed SAP server access. On an average, five new locations were added every month.

"After we decided to implement an appliance-based dedicated VPN solution we did a pilot run at our Mumbai office with a low-end VPN concentrator, a Cisco 3005 VPN concentrator. On successful testing, we bought the high-end VPN concentrator which can support a maximum of 1500 concurrent tunnels and can take care of our future requirements," said Kaushik.

"At our central site in Mumbai, the VPN concentrator has been installed on a 2 MB link which is connected through a firewall. PCs at remote locations have Cisco's VPN client software installed on Windows. This software came with the central office's VPN concentrator."

The Cisco VPN Concentrator collects all the traffic, from different centers over the Internet to the central BPCL operating center. The partners' users are bound by a stringent enterprise-wide security policy implemented by BPCL which pre-defines the level of access and services available to users on BPCL's network. 3DES encryption is used over the VPN.

The VPN concentrator is at BPCL's corporate office where the company's SAP servers are also hosted. The 2 Mbps pipe at the corporate office has 80 percent utilization at present. No QoS tools are in use on the VPN setup. There is some in-built redundancy in the VPN concentrator.

At the client end, many locations have more than one phone connection or Internet account. At places where wired telephone links are not stable, Wireless in Local Loop (WLL) links are used to connect to the local ISP. These links have been deployed by BSNL and provide 9.6 or 14.4 Kbps bandwidth.

Training on VPN use was given to BPCL's SAP rollout team. The team was responsible for implementing the solution at all locations where SAP had to be rolled out and the remote office or partner was not linked to BPCL's WAN.
At certain remote offices, there wasn't much choice regarding ISPs. In such a scenario, BPCL has left it up to users to decide which ISP to use; the choice was based upon the provider's service record in that area.

Functions
The VPN has made it possible for BPCL's partner locations to access the company's SAP servers for online business functions like order entry and invoice generation at very little running cost. "Currently the VPN is used by 130 users from around 110 locations across the country for carrying out SAP transactions. Other than the partners it's also used by a few mobile personnel," says Kaushik. SAP administrators also access the servers using VPN.

SAP has been made available to BPCL's mobile teleworkers in other operating locations that are not on the company's WAN using the VPN. The company's partners can access its intranet for online business functions like order entry and invoice generation, as well as backup data on the intranet.

Benefits
BPCL has achieved faster deployment, lower cost of operations, and a scalable solution that supports up to 1500 concurrent VPN users and can be integrated with future security initiatives like digital signatures and secure ID cards.

BPCL would have had to spend a substantial higher amount on VSAT links or leased lines at remote locations if it had not deployed a VPN solution.

The cost of setting up a VSAT link at a remote location is Rs 2.25 lakh for extended C-Band VSAT equipment currently being used by BPCL and Rs 1.25 to 1.5 lakh for new Ku-Band VSAT equipment. These are the initial capital costs. Recurring charges like WPC charges, DoT licence fee, bandwidth charges and the AMC are extra.

Future plans
BPCL plans to extend the VPN to other BPCL locations which are part of the BPCL WAN and have ISDN/VSAT/leased lines as primary connectivity. This will act as a fallback option. It also plans to extend VPN access to more mobile users.

Prashant L. Rao can be reached at prashant@expresscomputeronline.com

 
     
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