RailTel: Crafting the Digital Journey for Indian Railways

RailTel Corporation Ltd, one of the largest neutral telecom service providers, has been a frontrunner on the digitalisation journey of Indian Railways. Here is a look at their digital transformation, the emerging technologies they are adopting to provide a seamless experience to the citizens and what the future holds for them in terms of technological advancements

We are living through unprecedented times, and almost everything that we experience today is transforming, mostly digital. And public sector enterprises too, have left no stone unturned in reinventing themselves to meet the changing demands of the tech-enabled world.

Indian Railways-owned RailTel Corporation is at the forefront of providing nationwide Broadband Telecom & Multimedia Network to all parts of the country in addition to modernisation of train operations and administration network systems. With its pan-India high-capacity network, RailTel is working towards creating a knowledge society at various fronts. RailTel’s transformation in the past few years is an excellent story to be told. The major technological disruptions happening across the world, along with the recent hit pandemic have only led to the acceleration of these digital initiatives for them.

RailTel Corporation is one of the largest neutral telecom service provider with an optical fibre network spanning 50,000 km. RailTel has deployed one of the largest public WiFi networks in the country covering 5500+ railway stations, which are managed from a cloud platform. The public WiFi services are being used by more than 2 million users today.

RailTel is a paragon of technological advancements and accelerated digital transformation journeys. Chandra Kishore Prasad, Head-IT & Regional GM, RailTel Corporation Ltd shares, “The disruption which has been happening for quite some time has pushed organisations into their digital transformation journeys, and COVID-19 has further accelerated that pace. People have started looking at faster delivery of services. So, before the pandemic hit and the lockdown started, around eight months back, we had already deployed our cloud infrastructure and modernised our data centre, and that has helped us in basically meeting those emerging requirements which came out during the pandemic. People had to work from home and had to collaborate through online meetings and video conferencing, so we enabled our customers and our employees to do so. We created many VPN connections for them to access these services. We had this cloud infrastructure deployed, so we could scale up quite fast as far as the network agility was required. It has helped us in the speedy delivery of services, and at the same time, we were able to meet our customer expectations and reduce our operating costs.”

Making the right decisions with the right partners

Technology imperatives have constantly been changing, and convenience and personalisation at all possible touchpoints are now on top of the government agenda. Heading towards the real digital revolution, there were some challenges that RailTel faced, but it took proactive steps to overcome them and also ensure it associated with the right partners for their digital initiatives.

Talking about some of those, Prasad explains, “When we started working on this, we had to think of a long-term perspective as to what type of infrastructure, what type of technology should we choose and we didn’t engage with any consultant as such. So, we did many studies on our own; we worked on what are the technologies available, how to go about it, how it could be operable in the long run and how it would be more agile. We went ahead with that approach and decided that cloud-first is extremely important to have that scalability, agility and robustness. And also, when we have to serve more and more customers from our operational data centres, we need to look at hybrid cloud as well. So tomorrow, the cloud platform should be such that it should help us in managing the workload across multiple clouds. And with that objective, we chose VMware, a leader in this area that also had a lot of experience. That was the objective, and we went with the hybrid approach. As far as the infrastructure is concerned, we went with Hyper Converge infrastructure which has the compute and the storage built together into the hardware and a software-defined data centre. So, that is how we chose VMware, which would help us in further scaling up our operations as we move forward.”

RailTel partnered with VMware for its digital transformation journey with a cloud setup for eOffice rollout and IT services to Indian Railways dept/entities with the help of VMware’s vCloud Suite Enterprise, NSX Advanced, vSAN and SRM (Site Recovery Manager) solutions. According to Prasad, the journey so far in terms of achieving scalability, agility, and security has been extremely satisfying. “With VMware, we engaged with the professional services organisation team, and they were an excellent young team. We started with the design part, and we had multiple discussions with them to freeze the design, architecture, how we go with the various details and which version to operate on basically for the virtual compute, virtual storage and virtual network. Hence, we chose to go with the complete stack; we have vSphere, vSAN, NSX, and we chose the SRM for business continuity since we have two data centres, and SRM could help us to move the workloads in case of any fault in the complete data centre. Also, for the Indian Railways, we started eOffice deployment somewhere last year in the month of Feb-March, and by October’19, we had completed close to 50,000 users. We migrated them from the physical file system handling to the digital workspace. And another 50,000 were moved this year, by May 2020. By the time, COVID-19 struck, most of the users were already on the digital platform, and they could make use, of this platform effectively. It facilitated them to work from home, and they were quite productive. We also enabled online meetings and video conferencing services, and this was used extensively by the railway departments, and even online training was being given on that. So, these two things we could handle for the railways in these times with the help of VMware solutions. In addition to that, we also offered VPNs to our customers like UTI, ITSL, Coal India and other customers who are taking managed services from our data centres,” he shares.

Other than these, RailTel has also taken TAM service from VMware and completed the auditing of the cloud infrastructure for becoming an empanelled MeitY Cloud Service Provider. The cloud architecture provides all the flexibility of Secure Cloud, and if required, could help them to connect with other public CSP’s in the market. This deployment, has worked out very well for them, as per Prasad.

Bringing in the best of tech on board

RailTel’s next technology adoption plans in terms of improving their digital initiatives are very robust, and it is looking forward to collaborating with technology leaders like VMware to enhance their initiatives further. The next initiative for RailTel is to deploy the Edge Cloud, and they are already working on five Edge Clouds across India connected to the central cloud infrastructure. “The non-IT infrastructure has been ordered, and we are working on to finalise the design & architecture for the Edge Cloud management, which can serve the customers from the local cloud for enhanced customer experience. The Cloud Management Platform can move those workloads from the Edge Cloud to the central data centres and vice versa, migrate the applications, and provide business continuity. We can also provide the required customer experience offering services for IoT. We are also looking at putting more and more automation to enhance the productivity and operational resilience, and we have started on this journey. In the future, we definitely would want to leverage this platform for multi-cloud with capability to harness the public cloud services based on the business needs and cost efficiencies,” explains Prasad.

RailTel has also done some analysis and seen that basically the provisioning of virtual machines, which would usually take days, can now be done in a few hours using vRealise automation. “We are using the entire cloud suite for troubleshooting, the vRealise operations, which is a cloud management platform from VMware, and that is helping us in quickly identifying the potential issues and resolve them. So, the SLAs are much better, the confidence levels of our IT teams to address those issues are much better, and we can meet and exceed the expectations of our customers as far as our managed service offerings are concerned on our cloud deployment,” concludes Prasad.