by March 3, 2011 0 comments

Central Electricity Authority (CEA), is the apex body in the Indian Power sector, which collects data from various stakeholders in the power sector and utilizes it for monitoring various power sector activities, enabling timely planning/policy decisions and making the information public in the form of various reports.

An Information Management System (IMS) application was required to collect all data through a web based interface, store it in a central repository and generate customized reports. The application would help streamline data capture, analysis, and reporting. CEA setup a data center to host this application. The clear mandate for CEA was to ensure as low a TCO as possible while deploying this application.

For this, the group decided to embrace open source technologies for the job. As there was little IT knowledge in the group, the company decided to outsource the entire project to a third party vendor, which in this case was Vayamtech. The external agency did everything right from setting up a mid-sized data center, procuring the necessary software & hardware, did complete installation & configuration of rack servers, networking, and developed custom applications and conducted trainings.

Open Source tech used

The application was developed on the J2EE platform, and the entire source code for the same, along with appropriate design documentation and data dictionary were also created so that CEA wouldn’t remain locked in with the implementation partner. Most of the servers were based on RHEL AS and ES. CEA feels that this provides more cost effective resource utilization and security than most of its counterparts. The IMS application was hosted on RHEL and interacted with a proprietary database. For the development, open source packages like WAMP & XAMPP were used. For the deployment, various components of LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) were separately installed and configured.

Challenges faced

The first challenge was lack of knowledge about open source technologies and how to use them for developing the application. The four officers from CEA who were chosen for the job had to undergo training sessions to learn how to develop on open source products and technologies. Only then could they handle all phases of the application development life cycle. This training was conducted for CEA by the Engineering Staff College of India, Hyderabad.

The second issue that gave sleepless nights to CEA was finding external FOSS experts, because their existing suppliers were more comfortable selling hardware, licenses and services. They managed to find a domain specific consultant, who guided them in defining the specs, and in creating the RFP.

The third problem faced by CEA was a change in the licensing policy of their hardware vendor, due to which most of their software had to be redeployed. Due to this, they ended up having a mixed environment of both proprietary and open source software. Keeping a close watch of such a mixed environment and develop apps that integrate the two became a challenge for the company.

Lastly, during the installation & configuration of individual packages on specific Linux kernel used for the application, CEA faced some challenges in utilizing the desired RPM packages and it was a bit time consuming despite the support of various online open source forums.

Intranet on LAMP

In addition to this, CEA developedan intranet on LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP). Under this project, a few bilingual applications like Complaint Management System, Inventory Management System & Bill Management System have been developed and deployed which are web-based monitoring tools automating the earlier manual processes. The complete design, development and testing of all these intranet applications was handled by the four CEQ officers. Another two officers from the company handled administrative tasks related to the power sector job portal, which has again been developed on LAMP.

Why Open Source?

Better security, no vendor lock-in, freedom to customize the software as per their requirement without bothering about any licensing policies were the major reasons for moving to open source technologiesapps, open The company benefited from a 40% saving in the TCO as a result of this.

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