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Network Support: Education, health care and township segments streamline operations through telecom

July 11, 2013
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The role of telecom in the education, health care and township enterprise verticals is increasing. According to industry reports, technology providers in these segments have evolved from being “order takers” to “business partners”. Each of these industries has been taking initiatives to adopt telecom solutions across business functions.

To illustrate, Forrester India estimates that telecom spending by the Indian education sector will increase by about 13 per cent by end-2013, and 30 per cent of the total expenditure will be on new technology initiatives. According to a joint report by the Boston Consulting Group and the Confederation of Indian Industry, this share is expected to increase significantly in the future. As per the report, educational institutions will invest in hardware installation and network upgradation. So far, the key focus areas for these players have been computers, projection devices and content. The industry is now moving towards smart classes and virtual learning. Interactive display boards are being increasingly used in private and government schools and colleges. Futuresource Consulting estimates that over 100,000 interactive boards will be in use by 2016.

Educational institutions are using various telecom components in their infrastructure. VSAT is one of the most widely adopted mediums for offering distance education. Faculty members deliver lectures to students through satellite remote centres. Further, 24x7 internet connectivity is available to students on the campus through wireline mediums and Wi-Fi. Also, an increasing number of schools and colleges are offering internet-based study modules to their students. Most of the institutions offering higher education through distance learning have completely automated their internal processes such as admission and fee collection, and conduct examinations online. Several IT applications are also deployed. These include enterprise resource planning and Oracle’s PeopleSoft Campus Solutions.

Considering that education majors typically use large volumes of data, companies like Dell and Microsoft are offering a number of storage and security solutions. These help in reducing costs by decreasing the storage footprint and minimising management overheads.

The health care industry is also deploying state-of-the-art telecom solutions. According to Gartner, health care service providers in India are expected to spend Rs 57 billion on telecom products and services in 2013, a 7 per cent increase over 2012. In 2012, this expenditure included internal telecom tools, hardware and software. Going forward, health care institutes will utilise hospital information systems, picture archiving and communication systems, electronic health records and other mobile technologies. Cloud computing is already witnessing high usage in the segment. Health care majors are preparing plans to deploy cloud computing platforms to reduce hardware infrastructure costs.

Health care companies are also deploying various IT solutions. The most widely used platform is the health care information system.

Another segment with significant potential to adopt telecom solutions is existing and upcoming townships. With the increasing need for people to stay connected 24x7, township planners are looking to provide a strong telecom network. Service providers offer seamless voice and data services within a township. Another common feature for this segment is the intercom facility. The solution facilitates easy accessibility and connectivity for making calls within the township – between individual units and also the township’s security wing and maintenance staff.

In sum, providing best-in-class telecom services round the clock through an efficient and robust telecom network is becoming a priority for the education, health care and township segments.

tele.net surveyed various organisations/ institutions in the education, health care and township segments to assess their specific telecom requirements and solutions.

The following questions were asked in the survey:

•What are the organisation’s key technology requirements?

•What mix of service providers and vendors is used?

•What are the biggest concerns with respect to telecom infrastructure?

•What are some of the mobility and enterprise applications implemented by the organisation?

•Which network security tools has the organisation implemented?

•What redundancy tools are being used?

•Which new product or service holds the most relevance for the organisation?

Key technology requirements

According to the survey, the telecom-related priorities for organisations/institutions in these segments include deploying highly reliable, scalable and low-cost telecom solutions. Ensuring low latency, and securing data and disaster recovery processes are also important.

To ensure this, most companies have opted for a multi-tiered communications infrastructure. A telecom network typically comprises a mix of wireless and wireline technologies, IT platforms and applications along with a wireless last mile connectivity medium.

Educational institutions have opted for leased lines as the backbone of their telecom infrastructure. For example, the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ahmedabad has deployed a 45 Mbps leased line sourced from Tata Communications, a 100 Mbps leased line provided by the National Knowledge Network and a 16 Mbps leased line supplied by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL).

Besides, campuses deploy routers, switches and wireless connectivity mediums as part of their communications network. For instance, Jawaharlal Nehru University’s local area network (LAN) was established by Cisco using 802.11n connectivity. The LAN comprises an optic fibre cable network and the Cisco 2960 series edge switches. In addition, MPLS connectivity provided by Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) has been integrated with the university’s LAN. MTNL has also provided 3G-based access to the LAN by broadcasting a specific access point name. The network can be accessed from within the campus and outside it. Further, the university’s trunk network, which has a bandwidth of 10 Gbps, comprises L3 switch distribution layers.

For distance learning projects, the network paths created by the telecom set-up accommodate virtual routing and forwarding. This provides a common access platform across distant locations.

Meanwhile, companies engaged in developing townships use MPLS to connect to remote project sites. If MPLS connectivity is unavailable, the internet or VSATs are used. Real estate major Hirco Group has deployed a 10 Mbps MPLS network to connect to its sites under a hub-and-spoke model. The technology has been provided by Tata Communications.

On the other hand, the Punj Lloyd Group (PLG) has opted for VSAT connectivity to enable its employees at remote locations to connect to the company’s main network. “This medium is ideal in locations where internet and MPLS connectivity are unavailable,” says respondent, PLG.

Most of these companies have overseas offices. International connectivity is established through a person-to-person network, an IP-SEC tunnel,  MPLS, the internet and a secure VPN for mobile users.

Meanwhile, medical institutions such as Max Health care Institute Limited (MHIL) have deployed wide area networks, which comprise an MPLS-based cloud network. According to Nrapendra Singh, manager, IT, MHIL, all hospitals are connected via MPLS in a hub-and-spoke model. The bandwidth of the hospital’s network is 4-16 Mbps, while that at the hub is 44 Mbps.

Apart from standard telecom tools, various IT platforms and applications have been deployed by these institutions/companies. Educational institutions have opted for applications such as moodle, while township developers use SAP, enterprise resource planning (ERP) and

customer relationship management (CRM) tools. Medical institutions such as MHIL have deployed hospital information systems, SUN accounting software and a human resource portal.

IIM Ahmedabad has deployed IT tools for administrative purposes as well. According to the respondent, these systems have been installed on the basis of departments or activities. “We have deployed different systems for our postgraduate programmes and accounting functions. We also have a separate system for our management development programmes,” says the respondent. For e-learning, the institute has deployed the open source moodle learning management system. For all activities related to human resources, it uses the human resource management software. “We also have a separate set of software to manage the grading system used in our postgraduate programmes,” adds the respondent.

Similarly, township developers use the Oracle Business Suite for ERP, the Oracle Human Resources Management System, Google Applications on Cloud for emailing, the Primevara platform for project management and the Enterprise Content Management Documentum platform. They also use the Candy system for estimating the project size, the Frango application for corporate financial management and control, and engineering applications like AutoCad, StadPro and Offpipe.

Most of these companies have established a data centre, which is being used to house data servers and security devices, and to ensure network backup and uptime.

Service providers and vendors

As per the survey, campuses, townships and buildings use a mix of operators and technology vendors to meet their telecom-related requirements. These include Microsoft, Tata Communications, Cisco, Dell, McAfee, the National Knowledge Network, BSNL, MTNL, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India, HECL, Spectranet, Juniper Networks, Avaya, IBM, HP, Nortel, Rukus, Reliance Communications, Tandberg,  Polycom and Siemens.

Key issues

The major issues facing the institutions/ companies include those related to downtime, users’ acceptance of new technologies, identifying the appropriate technology and the cost of telecom equipment.

Mobile and enterprise applications

For enterprise mobility, companies/institutions use email, instant messaging and data connectivity. Mobile email and data connectivity are the most popular applications in this segment. Officials can access the corporate intranet from their mobile handsets and use the mobile conferencing facility. Other popular applications include push alerts and personal information management systems. In addition, telepresence services are being used by private management institutes for specific programmes. Other widely used applications are web hosting, VoIP, Web 2.0 tools and social networking.

Medical institutions such as MHIL use a corporate intranet system. Apart from any time, anywhere mobility, corporate intranet offers a cheap, flexible and easy-to-use medium. An open source electronic health records system, the WorldVista is also being used.

The most popular enterprise applications include video-, audio- and web-conferencing; IP video solutions; VoIP; and contact centre solutions.

Network redundancy

The tools used for network redundancy include data recovery and archiving, leased lines, ISDN lines, dual backup systems, switches, disaster recovery centres and high availability links.

According to the Hirco Group, a township developer, ensuring redundancy is not a priority for the company. “We have deployed redundant links for our servers but not for our network as the network uptime is already 99.4-99.6 per cent,” says the respondent.

 The way forward

Most institutions/companies have prepared expansion plans for their telecom networks. For example, Hirco will undertake another round of network upgradation later this year. As per the respondent, “We are looking at upgrading various applications deployed on our network, as well as the intranet. This will be undertaken in August and September 2013 respectively. We also plan to shift the data centre to the cloud platform by end-2014.”

Meanwhile, MHIL is looking to implement an electronic health record system at each hospital, for which the process of implementing business intelligence modules has been initiated. CRM and ERP applications will also be implemented.

IIM Ahmedabad is looking to buy a core L3 switch to replace the older switch on its communications network. “The institute feels that this will help it enhance the network speed,” notes the respondent.

In sum, establishing a robust telecom infrastructure is now at the top of all leading organisations’ to-do list.

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