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Issue of July 2006 
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LIC opts for Linux

India's biggest life insurer, the LIC, recently decided to shift its IT requirements on to Linux. Rishiraj Verma spoke to all those who were behind this landmark decision


D K Mehrotra

BFSI has long been among the biggest spenders on IT. Now it’s the turn of India’s leading insurer, Life Insurance Corporation of India, to join in by upgrading its IT infrastructure. To do this it plans to move to a complete Linux base not only at the server level but also at the desktop.

Interestingly, all of LIC’s software has been developed in-house at the Software Development Centre (SDC), starting from its back-end processing systems in the 1970s. In the ‘90s, LIC felt the need to develop a front-end package, which it named Front End Application Package (FEAP).

Serving concurrent requests

The problem started in 2001 when LIC networked its offices and shifted to Red Hat Linux 8.0 for this. Once the centres were networked, concurrent requests for customer data began to turn up the heat on its aging systems. This led the company to re-examine its IT infrastructure. LIC decided to migrate to Red Hat Enterprise Linux 2.1(RHEL).

D K Mehrotra, GM, LIC, explains: “With Unix, it was getting difficult to carry out other projects simultaneously.”

LIC also considered the cost effectiveness of the migration, which would help them migrate their mission-critical business applications to the new system while the SDC continues to produce 99 percent of the software.

The company’s primary application, FEAP, was also experiencing problems, which made them look for a faster operating system, and RHEL helped them in that

In addition, the company’s primary application, FEAP, was also experiencing problems, which made them look for a faster operating system, and RHEL helped them in that. Unix, says Mehrotra, limited the number of FEAP units in use and there was no third party support.

B Venugopal, Chief, Information Technology adds that server emulation was a big problem with Unix whereas with RHEL, “We can simply convert a PC into a server by connecting terminals.” So, the migration seems to be a result of both business and technological needs.

In A Nutshell

The company
The world's second largest and India's largest life insurance provider insures more than 170 million individuals in India. LIC introduced computers as early as 1964.

The reason for the shift

  • To allow more concurrent users to access the LIC database
  • To migrate all mission-critical business applications to another system so that the SDC could focus on producing and developing core business software

    The solution
    Red Hat Enterprise Linux 2.1

    The benefits

  • More concurrent logins made possible
  • Possibility to use a wider array of hardware and software

Finding the right solution

LIC wanted to be sure about the vendor they would work with. Thus before finalising they tested both RHEL and SuSE. The former matched LIC’s requirements for expansion. “RHEL fitted well into the technical roadmap and IT policy at LIC, and that was the only reason to choose it,” says Venugopal.

Current Status

The upgrade to Red Hat Enterprise Linux 2.1 is in its second quarter, expected to be completed by the end of June 2006. Says Mehrotra, “It is only later that we will start looking at other issues such as security.”

All of LIC’s 2,048 branches, 100 divisional offices, seven zonal offices, head office and subsidiary offices will be covered by the deployment. Along with this all of LIC’s desktops will also simultaneously be converted to Linux. Approximately 60,000 users and five to six thousand servers will migrate to RHEL.

With such a huge deployment, ensuring that there’s no downtime will be crucial. However, both Venugopal and Mehrotra are unfazed. They believe that their 100 training centres across the country should ensure that the project duration does not get extended and the migration is seamless.

As of now, LIC claims to be facing no problems in the migration process. Says Venugopal, “We don’t see any problems arising in the near future either.” Talking about the existence of a mental block against Linux systems, Mehrotra says that if LIC had functioned with blocks like that, they would be lagging behind not only in IT investments but also in the business they run.

The migration, according to Venugopal, will enable LIC to use almost all software
and hardware available in the market. This is important as earlier the organisation
was restricted to certain applications due to the proprietary platform

The migration, according to Venugopal, will enable LIC to use almost all software and hardware available in the market. This is important as earlier the organisation was restricted to certain applications due to the proprietary platform. RHEL has also0 helped them to use applications such as Micro Focus COBOL, which was difficult on the earlier Unix systems.

The major benefit according to Venugopal and Mehrotra is the possibility of a larger number of concurrent users accessing the database.

Keeping its options open

The GM and IT Chief insist that they will have to “wait and watch for the results of this experience.” They add that only two years back, they shifted from Unix to the Linux platform and now they are in the middle of migrating and if need be, they might shift to another platform in the future, but it will depend on the results of the current migration.

Says Mehrotra, “We do not see the need to invest in other systems. But we intend to give our global customers the best possible experience and therefore, we are open to make any changes, which might be inevitable in due course.”

 
     
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