Re­liance Com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­als in to open source for com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage

One of the big­gest play­ers in the In­dian tele­com sec­tor is set­ting a prece­dent for other tele­com com­pa­nies by ag­gres­sively adopt­ing open source

InformationWeek - - Contents - By Srikanth RP

One of the big­gest play­ers in the In­dian tele­com sec­tor is set­ting a prece­dent for other tele­com com­pa­nies by ag­gres­sively adopt­ing open source

E ven as In­dian tele­com com­pa­nies con­tinue to add sub­scribers at a fast pace, the in­creased com­pet­i­tive sce­nario is en­forc­ing new de­mands on tele­com ser­vice providers. Tele­com ser­vice providers now not only have to pro­vide the most cost­ef­fec­tive rates, but also have to in­no­vate to quickly roll­out new ser­vices. Any plan to roll­out a new ser­vice calls for bal­anc­ing high cap­i­tal ex­pen­di­ture with the flex­i­bil­ity and agility of a tech­nol­ogy plat­form that al­lows a tele­com ser­vice provider to do so.

Glob­ally, an in­creas­ing num­ber of tele­com ser­vice providers are look­ing at open source soft­ware — as it not only re­duces the over­all cost of own­er­ship, but also gives them the abil­ity to cus­tom­ize and in­no­vate in a bet­ter way, giv­ing them ac­cess to the source code.

In In­dia, Re­liance Com­mu­ni­ca­tions has taken the lead, and has adopted a holis­tic open source strat­egy. The firm has been mak­ing ex­ten­sive use of open source soft­ware in place of pro­pri­etary prod­ucts to pro­mote open stan­dards and fa­cil­i­tate plug and play in IT op­er­a­tions.

Ex­plain­ing the strate­gic in­tent of adopt­ing open source, Alpna Doshi, CIO, Re­liance Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, em­pha­sizes that the com­pany has tra­di­tion­ally been ac­tively en­gaged with the open source com­mu­nity both as a con­sumer, as well as a con­trib­u­tor.

“Re­liance Com­mu­ni­ca­tions is re­quired to main­tain a large IT in­fra­struc­ture — both at data cen­ter and user desk side — to meet its busi­ness re­quire­ments. To man­age op­er­a­tions of the scale, it is es­sen­tial to stan­dard­ize the tech­nol­ogy stack. We opted for open stan­dards so that we can ben­e­fit from the huge ta­lent pool in the open source ecosys­tem, while con­tribut­ing to it si­mul­ta­ne­ously.”

AD­DRESS­ING CHANGE MAN­AGE­MENT

Re­liance Com­mu­ni­ca­tions’ open source jour­ney started two years ago, and is per­haps one of the best ex­am­ples to show how a com­pany can em­brace the tech­nol­ogy. Ac­knowl­edg­ing the fact that adop­tion of open source could have tech­ni­cal and cul­tural chal­lenges, the firm fol­lowed and show­cased best prac­tices of change man­age­ment to iden­tify and mit­i­gate the en­vis­aged risks of the tran­si­tion. All stake­hold­ers were taken into con­fi­dence be­fore the ac­tual cut over, which has re­sulted in re­duced end-user is­sues.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the firm took a num­ber of initiatives to pop­u­lar­ize and in­crease ac­cep­tance of client side open source soft­ware among end users. It con­ducted a num­ber of face-to-face and web train­ing ses­sions on open source, pro­mot­ing the ben­e­fits of us­ing open

“With ad­vances in IT, the ad­van­tages of pro­pri­etary ap­pli­ca­tions will break down against the storm of in­no­va­tion brought by open source prod­ucts. Open source cou­pled with open stan­dard plat­forms is go­ing to be the hub of fu­ture in­no­va­tion”

ALPNA J DOSHI

CIO, Re­liance Com­mu­ni­ca­tions

source through screen savers, posters, and in-house cam­paigns. FAQs were cre­ated and cir­cu­lated to all users. To en­sure proper sup­port, the IT helpdesk and en­gi­neers were trained ex­ten­sively. A fo­rum in­clud­ing chat sup­port was cre­ated that en­abled the users to raise their queries, which were replied by ex­perts. Open source cham­pi­ons were cre­ated on each floor and cer­ti­fied. Th­ese cham­pi­ons then trained other users.

CLAS­SI­FY­ING AP­PLI­CA­TIONS

In the next stage, key ar­eas of op­er­a­tion were eval­u­ated for their suit­abil­ity of de­ploy­ing open source soft­ware. The key ar­eas iden­ti­fied were: client side soft­ware (Desk­top op­er­at­ing sys­tem, mail client, of­fice suite, vir­tual desk­top and pro­ject man­age­ment tools), Data Cen­ter Ap­pli­ca­tions (Sever OS, proxy soft­ware and other in­tranet ap­pli­ca­tions like FTP, DHCP, DNS, file server, print servers), Net­work Man­age­ment Sys­tem (NMS) to re­motely mon­i­tor and man­age

net­work links and de­vices, and web host­ing ap­pli­ca­tions for in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal web­sites.

The choice for us­ing open source soft­ware for user ma­chines was made at a much more gran­u­lar level. In­stead of iden­ti­fy­ing func­tions, the role of each in­di­vid­ual em­ployee was eval­u­ated with a per­spec­tive of suit­abil­ity to pro­pri­etary soft­ware ver­sus open source ones. The Stan­dard Op­er­at­ing En­vi­ron­ment (SOE) im­age car­ried only open source soft­ware. Ex­cep­tions were made for a few users, hav­ing ex­cep­tional re­quire­ments.

For a large com­pany like Re­liance Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, the big­gest de­ploy­ment of open source was on the client side. The firm chose OpenOf­fice, as the of­fice suite and Thun­der­bird as the open source mail­ing client. Ubuntu OS was tested for its com­pat­i­bil­ity with all ap­pli­ca­tions used in the com­pany. Sim­i­larly, OpenProj was used by users in­volved in pro­ject man­age­ment and track­ing, while Ul­teo was eval­u­ated as a plat­form for vir­tual desk­tops. Among th­ese projects, the big­gest chal­lenge was the de­ploy­ment of OpenOf­fice.

“Adop­tion to OpenOf­fice was a big chal­lenge as there was huge in­er­tia from both users and busi­nesses. Busi­nesses were re­quested to iden­tify users for whom the use of OpenOf­fice us­age was not prac­ti­cal. For the re­main­ing users run­ning in thou­sands, OpenOf­fice was de­ployed us­ing Marimba,” states Doshi. Open source so­lu­tion, ‘Scalix’ was im­ple­mented on the server side cou­pled with open source mail client Thun­der­bird. The firm was able to im­prove hard­ware ef­fi­ciency by us­ing th­ese light-weight ap­pli­ca­tions.

On the data cen­ter side, var­i­ous fla­vors of Linux were be­ing used for Server OS like RHEL, Fe­dora, OEL and Cent. Choice of OS was de­ter­mined by com­pat­i­bil­ity with other soft­ware. To­day, use of Linux OS has been well ac­cepted for busi­ness crit­i­cal ap­pli­ca­tions with ad­e­quate level of sup­port avail­able for en­ter­prise grade ver­sions. The firm also main­tains sev­eral open source prox­ies for In­ter­net ac­cess to thou­sands of in­ter­nal users. The proxy is well hard­ened and al­lows com­mu­ni­ca­tion only on se­lec­tive ports to pre­clude ma­li­cious at­tacks. URL and con­tent fil­ter­ing is also fol­lowed. Users are seg­mented based on their In­ter­net us­age re­quire­ments.

The choice of soft­ware in the data cen­ter was made by eval­u­at­ing the soft­ware on pa­ram­e­ters of fea­tures, scal­a­bil­ity, man­age­abil­ity, avail­abil­ity of skills in the mar­ket and com­pat­i­bil­ity with other soft­ware.

Fur­ther, open source NMS has been con­fig­ured for sev­eral thou­sands of links and de­vices. “We have de­vel­oped ad­di­tional fea­tures to th­ese open source plug-ins which make it suit­able for our busi­ness re­quire­ments, as well as makes the prod­uct more en­riched. Ex­ten­sive use of on­line fo­rums was made to seek help in de­vel­op­ment, as well as con­trib­ute to the fo­rum. We also cus­tom­ized it to create a Busi­ness Process Man­age­ment (BPM) in­cor­po­rat­ing all de­vices such as servers, links and net­work de­vices for mis­sion­crit­i­cal ser­vices. In case of fail­ure, alerts are sent to all stake­hold­ers,” ex­plains Doshi. A huge num­ber of web ap­pli­ca­tions were hosted on open source plat­forms like JBoss.

OPEN SOURCE – NOT A COST AR­BI­TRAGE IS­SUE

What’s more note­wor­thy about Re­liance Com­mu­ni­ca­tions’ strat­egy is the fact that the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s open source strat­egy has not re­volved around cost, but around flex­i­bil­ity and in­no­va­tion. “While cost sav­ing can be an added ad­van­tage, our prime fo­cus is on prop­a­ga­tion of open stan­dards across the or­ga­ni­za­tion, which we be­lieve is the way for­ward for en­ter­prise as well as desk­top ap­pli­ca­tions. There have been in­stances where we have in­vested heav­ily on train­ing and mi­gra­tion to adopt open stan­dards,” states Doshi.

Due to its fo­cus on open source, the firm be­lieves that in the next few years, Re­liance Com­mu­ni­ca­tions would de­rive mul­ti­ple ben­e­fits of open stan­dards like col­lab­o­ra­tive de­vel­op­ment, ac­cess to in­no­va­tions and agility.

“With ad­vances in IT, the ad­van­tages of large, mono­lithic, pro­pri­etary ap­pli­ca­tions will break down against the storm of in­no­va­tion brought by open source com­mu­nity prod­ucts. The ecosys­tem of en­ter­prise sup­port for open source ap­pli­ca­tion is also de­vel­op­ing rapidly and is re­duc­ing the tra­di­tional risks as­so­ci­ated with open source adop­tion in en­ter­prises. In­dus­try initiatives like ‘Whole­sale Ap­pli­ca­tion Com­mu­nity’ ( WAC), is a tes­ti­mony to the fact that open source cou­pled with open stan­dard plat­forms is go­ing to be the hub of fu­ture in­no­va­tion,” says Doshi.

For an in­dus­try grap­pling with falling mar­gins and in­creased com­pe­ti­tion, the large scale adop­tion of open source is a pi­o­neer­ing move, as it can im­prove the over­all com­pet­i­tive­ness of the com­pany.

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