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Issue of May 2004 
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A data center for well-oiled business

HPCL's business was growing and the company was expanding its nationwide reach. It deployed suitable enterprise applications to support the business processes and built regional data centers to support the applications and business. by Anil Patrick R

Indian petroleum giant Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL) grew its business very rapidly. It has a number of zonal offices and Strategic Business Units (SBUs) for the various product lines.

It migrated from legacy applications into an automated environment with the use of ERP and other enterprise applications. In the process it realized the need to consolidate IT infrastructure with data centers for better management and information security.

Distributed database

Before computerization, the company used to create all invoices manually, and had to make a number of error checks. HPCL developed a Distributed Database (DDB) package and installed it in nationwide locations. Company personnel were also trained to handle the applications.

The DDB package captured information like sales, stock, public carrier bills, financial, masters into one form. This keyed-in data would be stored on floppies and taken to the Head Office (HO) in Mumbai, to be balanced and audited.

Decentralization

As volumes grew, the company decentralized its business activities to the zonal offices. At the end of the month, the vital business data would be sent to the HO and the final print files were sent back to the zonal offices.

HPCL then introduced the concept of SBUs for business lines like retail, LPG, and aviation. This further helped the administration of business in the different zones.

New initiatives

As the company continued with DBB package, it decided to deploy newer initiatives like ERP, e-procurement, and portal-based solutions. Subhash Palav, General Manager, Information Technology, HPCL said, “We communicated to the higher management that these initiatives were actually business-based activities, and thus were able to receive the required support and funds.”

Data center for ERP

The company decided to implement an ERP from JD Edwards (now a Peoplesoft company). But it had to set up a data center before the ERP could go live because it had to subject the software to rigorous test runs before the pilot implementation.

So the company set a deadline as September 30, 2002 for the data center in Mumbai. Top management was supportive and the IT team had to monitor the project very closely. “We scrutinized aspects like security, air-conditioning, power supply, and planned server uptime,” explained Palav. A tender was floated for consultancy, and IBM was awarded the responsibility.

The data center was ready by September 26, 2002. And the company began to roll out the ERP in phases in the different nationwide locations and SBUs. The rollout was done in February 2003.

More business needs

As personnel became used to the ERP, the business users needed integrated business reports. This prompted deployment of a data warehouse and an information portal integrated with data center servers.

In the process, HPCL decided to deploy similar data centers at the zonal offices. These were not as large and elaborate as the one at the HO, but were sufficient to handle the regional business’s loads.

For the data center

The primary and secondary communication links between the data centers and various nationwide locations are a mix of VSAT and leased lines. The company now uses 179 VSAT connections.

WLANs are used between certain locations, like the Agra office and the Mumbai refinery. VPNs are also used in places, and an SMS-based application allows remote users to receive information. An elaborate business continuity plan has also been made.

Benefits

“The data center acts as a platform for the organization to launch many of its vital business processes,” said Palav. The regional offices and HO can exchange secure and updated data at any time. This allows them to take business decisions easily.

“If we have to stay in competition, we need to use the latest tools and technologies. And in order to deploy them, we must have the required data center infrastructure. It's like a user who wants to use the latest car, but the city has no paved roads,” explained Palav. “So now when we have to deploy new IT initiatives, we already have a readymade platform to launch it.”

 
     
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