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Powering Up: NTPC leverages telecom to improve performance

October 01, 2013

With an installed capacity of 41,184 MW, NTPC Limited is India’s largest thermal power producer. At present, it has 23 operational plants across the country and aims to have an installed power generating capacity of 128,000 MW by 2032. Recognising the role of technology in improving operations and reducing costs, NTPC has invested significantly in upgrading its telecom and IT network.

tele.net takes a look at the company’s telecom initiatives…

 Legacy system and the shift

Since its inception in 1975, NTPC has been using a VSAT network to connect its plant sites and regional offices spread across the country. In order to meet its growing communication needs, the company started shifting from VSATs to MPLS in 2007. Currently, the VSAT network provides connectivity to the company’s 32 locations, while over 85 MPLS links have been deployed to boost network connectivity. However, despite the adoption of MPLS technology, satellite connectivity continues to be the primary communication link in rural areas. NTPC is using MPLS links to connect various plant sites with its disaster recovery unit in Hyderabad. It uses 4 Mbps bandwidth at each plant site and 2 MPLS links supporting 34 Mbps bandwidth each at its data centre. For last mile access, it uses an optical fibre cable-based network. The bandwidth has been sourced from service providers like Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited and Reliance Communications.

According to the company spokesperson, NTPC’s data centre houses a strong network of servers supporting its day-to-day business operations. The data centre helps ensure server uptime, data recovery and backup, hardware and network operations, data storage, and support for operations and customers. The data centre houses more than 50 superdome and high-end servers, which are provided by Hewlett-Packard. The company also sources equipment from Cisco, Juniper Networks, Alcatel-Lucent and Avaya.

In addition, to streamline different functions and reduce operational costs, the company has deployed several enterprise and mobility solutions like SAP, which has replaced over 12 legacy systems, various spreadsheet-driven applications, and other manual processes. The company is also using SAP to run applications such as commercial billing, e-procurement, and plant performance reports including plant load factor and data generation. Using the e-procurement module, the company floats tenders and invites applications online. In addition, NTPC has deployed enterprise applications such as enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management.

In addition to VSATs, NTPC uses the internet and email for its communication needs. To secure its communications network, the company has put in place a layered security system comprising firewall and anti-spam solutions.

 Challenges and benefits

According to the company spokesperson,  NTPC has had a smooth run with its telecom network. However, the telecom services are at times impacted by the frequent maintenance work undertaken by its service providers to repair damaged fibre. These challenges notwithstanding, the company has derived several benefits with significant investments in telecom infrastructure. For example, the deployment of MPLS links has enabled NTPC to consolidate its distributed architecture of servers into a central server.

Moreover, the power producer has access to high bandwidth and uptime of over 99 per cent. With SAP serving as a single platform for carrying out multiple functions, NTPC has managed to improve efficiencies by supporting automated workflows, and is better equipped to ensure consistency with standard policies and procedures across company verticals.  Other benefits offered by SAP include access to integrated data across departments for more effective decision-making, lower purchasing costs with e-procurement functionality, rationalised asset item codes, ability to handle higher business volumes with significantly lower headcount, shorter project lead times with accurate milestone tracking as well as proactive risk identification.

 The road ahead

Going forward, NTPC plans to upgrade and strengthen its telecom network by adding more secondary links. These fibre-based links will further enhance connectivity to the company’s remote plant sites. Power Grid Corporation of India Limited has already conducted a feasibility study to identify plant sites that need to be connected with fibre. The move is expected to help NTPC overcome challenges related to last mile connectivity. In addition, the company is looking to replace its existing set-up of servers at the data centre by 2016.

 
 

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