“We’ll play a significant role in digitally empowering India”

“We’ll play a significant role in digitally empowering India”

CK Prasad, Regional GM and Head IT, RailTel Corporation of India Ltd, discusses the company’s IT roadmap.

RailTel Corporation of India Ltd, a public sector undertaking, is one of the largest neutral telecom infrastructure service providers in the country. It manages one of the largest public sector Wi-Fi networks in India while providing a range of services that encompass cloud and disaster recovery. CK Prasad, Regional General Manager and Head IT, at RailTel, spoke to CIO Dialogues about how the organisation plans to incorporate new technologies like IoT to enhance the efficiencies of Indian Railways and its other customers.

You operate one of the largest public Wi-Fi networks in India. What does the task entail and what are the challenges?
RailTel manages and operates one of the largest public Wi-Fi networks in India with deployments of hotspots at 1600+ Indian railway stations. The Wi-Fi network is being extended to cover another 4500+ railway stations in FY 2019-2020. The Wi-Fi network is built on a highly resilient, scalable and available high speed MPLS network that is built on optical fibre communication infrastructure of RailTel. Aggregate bandwidth of 1Gbps is provisioned at A1 and A category stations, which have the highest footfall of passengers. Other stations are provisioned with 100/50 Mbps of Internet bandwidth. The focus is on providing exceptional user experience.

The Wi-Fi network is managed from RailTel’s Central Network Operation Centre. The user registration, authentication and captive portal is provided from the cloud infrastructure deployed at RailTel DC and DR.

One challenge is to keep this large network up and running 24X7. At remote railway stations, which do not have power backup for the network devices and Wi-Fi access points, and at A1 and A category stations a longer duration of power supply disruptions  beyond the UPS backup capacity affects the services. Other issues relate to hardware failure, etc. As these are spread over the entire Indian Railways network a large number of trained staff is required for maintenance of the network.

You are trying to deploy IoT and other new technology solutions at RailTel. How will it transform customer experience?
RailTel is uniquely positioned to design and deploy IoT services being an integrated ICT service provider. RailTel has widened its portfolio of services in recent times and developed capability to offer IoT services to its customers across various sectors. RailTel services like MPLS VPN, broadband Internet, largest public Wi-Fi network, security and secure cloud infrastructure with DC and DR enables us to provide best in class IoT services for various mission critical applications. We have deployed IoT services for Train Protection System and Energy Management and submitted proposals for implementation of industrial IoT for railway workshops.

These services will create unique value in terms of enhanced visibility into customers’ operations and will help the customer take corrective action/faster decision to improve the business outcome, which was otherwise not feasible earlier. Also, the huge amount of data generated can be harnessed to predict and forecast various trends and will enable enterprises to take strategic business decisions.

You have deployed a dashboard for SLA management. How does this impact or enhance customer experience?
RailTel is one of the largest neutral telecom and cloud service providers. We offer MPLS VPN services to securely connect branches and remote locations to applications residing in the cloud infrastructure in the data centre. Customers using our MPLS VPN services to connect a large number of sites, like 100+ locations, are provided with an exclusive dashboard for SLA management that provides visibility into the complete network, alarm data, network availability data and facilitates faster resolution of issues affecting the services. Various types of reports can be obtained from the dashboard on a periodic basis, like daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly for SLA reconciliation. We have gained customers’ trust by doing so and it has also helped RailTel to serve them better. Banking and government customers have appreciated the initiative. It has resulted in faster settlement of payments due to a single version of truth.

What has been your experience in transitioning to a cloud model? How do you manage to handle concerns like security and vendor management?
We were primarily providing co-location services from our DC and limited managed service for hosting applications through server virtualization in the past. However, in recent times we transitioned to the cloud model and deployed the complete cloud stack with compute, storage and network virtualization on Hyper Converged Infrastructure (HCI). We have deployed cloud orchestration software for cloud operations, automation and business continuity. RailTel DC and DR are Tier III uptime certified facility and security is our top most priority. Our facilities and systems are ISO 27001 certified for IT security management. Security is not merely a product, but a process. Hence we constantly endeavour to keep our systems secure by analysing the threat intelligence environment and implementing the best in class cyber security measures.

The vendor management process is well defined and documented in our organisation. Access to the critical facility is under supervision, and identity management systems like AD, LDAP, etc are used to restrict the access based on assigned roles.

What is your IT roadmap moving forward?
RailTel has deployed HCI to reduce data centre device and rack footprint and optimise energy consumption. The HCI architecture with tiered storage-SSD, SAS and NL-SAS used as object storage provides superlative performance, high availability, fault tolerance, and reduces the DC carbon footprint. The secure cloud infrastructure with cloud orchestration layer encompassing the DC and DR sites brings automation in faster delivery of IT infrastructure for business. The cloud architecture integrates the SDN (Software Defined Network) in the DC with the secure MPLS to make the entire system inherently secure. Going ahead RailTel will augment the model cloud infrastructure with new clusters in a scale-out and scale-up model and build new DCs and near DRs to play a significant role in the Digital India program, a flagship program of the Government of India to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy.