1997 Asian Paints India Limited used proprietary OSs
in its network. Linux was first introduced on the company's
mail servers. Impressed by its performance and cost
benefits, the company has deployed it on its mission
critical servers. by Soutiman Das Gupta
Paints India Limited (APIL) is India's largest paint
company with a turnover of Rs 16.56 billion (USD 340
million). It is present in 94 locations nationwide and
runs critical enterprise applications like SAP R/3,
SAP Business Information Warehouse, mySAP CRM, and a
range of solutions from i2 on its servers.
In 1997, APIL first deployed Linux on its mail servers.
Impressed with its features and performance, the company
gradually migrated many of its mission critical applications
to Linux as well. It now runs 45 Linux servers using
a combination of Red Hat 6.0 and SuSE 7.x distributions.
Linux servers comprise almost 20 percent of the server
infrastructure. Besides the usual mail and messaging
applications, these servers are used to run ERP modules
and B2B applications, an area where zero downtime is
a key necessity.
The company deployed Linux servers and applications
in a phased manner. It first used Linux for non-mission
critical applications like intranet and messaging. Once
convinced about the stability and cost benefits, the
next step was to migrate mission critical applications
Asian Paints India Limited (APIL) is India's largest
paint company with a turnover of Rs 16.56 billion
(USD 340 million). It is present in 94 locations
nationwide and runs enterprise applications like
SAP R/3, SAP Business Information Warehouse, mySAP
CRM, and a range of solutions from i2 on its servers.
The company needed a cost effective, stable, flexible,
and reliable OS platform to run its critical business
The company deployed enterprise editions of Linux
distributions on its mail and Intranet server.
Satisfied with the performance in non-mission
critical areas, it also deployed it on mission
critical ERP application servers and other hardware.
Linux offered attractive price/performance benefits,
reliability, scalability, and management features
to the network.
- The initiation
In 1997 the company had around 75 NetWare- and NT-based
servers in its network. All the branch office servers
used NetWare. It purchased MS Exchange to centralize
e-mail management functions and ran it for around six
months. But the company felt that the application was
very bandwidth-intensive. The nationwide branch offices
were linked through VSAT since leased lines were not
easily available at that time, and VSAT bandwidth is
Microsoft also had a client-based licensing policy.
P. Rambabu, General Manager-IT, APIL said, "We
had to buy an NT user license along with the Exchange
license to access mail. In effect, we had to purchase
a dual license and the total cost per user worked out
to be around Rs 5,000." In the meantime, the IS
Team at APIL had dabbled with Linux and gathered a significant
amount of technical documentation on the OS. It concluded
that a shift to Linux will save cost on license fees,
consume less bandwidth, and save cost on hardware since
the OS can even function on a simple PC rather than
The NT-based servers were replaced with seven 486 DX
PCs with 66 MHz processors. The Intranet server was
also migrated to Linux. The qmail application and OpenLDAP
directory services were deployed, and management policies
were set on the servers.
"It was a quick rollout. Our staff did not need
any training as in the case of MS Exchange. The setup
performed wonderfully well and we decided to use more
applications on Linux as we had found a foothold into
the technology," said Rambabu. "And the presence
of distribution vendors like Red Hat and SuSE in India
addressed the technical support issues."
What started as a controlled experiment developed into
an exciting technology avenue. APIL began to develop
HTML-, Java-, and PHP-based applications and was able
to relate them to the database.
But qmail on Linux did not perform efficiently on the
bandwidth utilization front. Since Linux is an open
source OS, the IS team at APIL tweaked the source code
to achieve the desired result. Later on, the company
migrated from qmail to Postfix, an open source product
from IBM. Intranet development and testing functions
were also performed on Linux. The company then decided
to procure an ERP to organize its transaction processing
SAP on Linux
"SAP had begun to support the use of Linux around
two years ago. This gave us the confidence to use a
Linux-based server platform for the SAP ERP modules,"
In early 2001 APIL implemented SAP on three HP-UX servers.
The server platforms were slowly migrated to Linux and
new Linux-based servers were introduced. The company
now has seven application servers that run the critical
ERP modules. Five of the seven servers are Linux-based
and handle the bulk of the processing load. The servers
support 500 concurrent users nationwide. SAP development
and testing processes are performed on Linux-based servers
to save costs on licenses. Rambabu was happy with the
decision to use Linux-based servers and said, "The
Linux servers give us a very robust price/performance
Since APIL was planning to run commercial applications
like databases and ERP modules, it had to go in for
a commercial distribution of Linux. "We could not
simply download kernels from the Web or use those offered
free in magazines. We had to use specific kernels,"
explained Rambabu. The company invested in SuSE Linux
Enterprise Server since this distribution is optimized
for mission critical, high-availability and high-performance
"And the hardware really performs well in this
case. Enterprise editions of Linux distributions like
SuSE now include Symmetric Multiprocessing (SMP) systems
by default. So we loaded these particular distributions
and the servers were able to perform load balancing
and distribution functions," said Rambabu. The
SAP applications run on servers with Xeon CPUs and 4
Other apps on Linux
APIL runs i2's Demand, Factory, and Supply Chain Planner
for factory scheduling. The supply chain operations
require order input into SAP modules and then subsequently
into i2 for scheduling. The company has deployed an
integration platform from webMethods to serve as a common
backbone to connect these systems and exchange information
about scheduling and ordering processes across SAP,
i2 and other systems. This critical middleware solution
runs on Linux. HP
OpenView is used to manage the network which runs with
the help of a Linux agent.
Managing security issues
APIL's security infrastructure comprising of VPN, Firewalls,
and access control mechanisms like RADIUS (Remote Authentication
Dial-In User Service), used to run on Linux.
"We evaluated FreeBSD and found it provided more
rugged security features and is a better technology
for hardening systems. FreeBSD offers a very small footprint,
which helps a server perform its functions very effectively,"
said Rambabu. So the company migrated these applications
to a FreeBSD platform and now has around five FreeBSD
Performance & cost
APIL feels that the teething problems for Linux are
the same as that of any other OS. It is essential to
have technical personnel trained in the use of Linux
since a number of management features are not available
through the GUI. One has to use the Command Line Interface
(CLI) to perform management functions, tuning, and tweaking.
The OS does not show unpredictable performance in a
properly configured system. The company has signed AMCs
with Red Hat and SuSE, which include patches and kernel
In terms of costs, the only investment the company has
made is in purchasing the SuSE enterprise kernels. The
total cost over time has been around Rs 2 lakh. This
does not include cost of manpower and customization.
"The incremental cost is less compared to proprietary
OSs, which need agents and other software to be used
in conjunction," explained Rambabu. "The decision
to use Linux is a matter of organizational comfort.
Linux is still not an accepted corporate technology
in many enterprises. People still think it to be in
the realm of geeks. So a huge amount of organizational
backing is required."
Soutiman Das Gupta can be reached at