Veraval, a small fishing port town on the coast of Gujarat, is a picture postcard of contradictions. It's tucked between the soothing waters of the Arabian Sea and is home to the soot-filled chimneys of India's biggest manufacturing plants. Its industries house the world's most cutting-edge machinery, while its fishermen build dhows (fishing boats) with bare hands and measuring tapes.
This double-life makes Veraval interesting. But what's significant about this port town is its geographical location. For one, it blesses the town's surroundings with an abundance of limestone and salt resources--a prime ingredient in the manufacture of cement, and soda ash, and various other chemicals. Which is why, it attracts manufacturing giants like Aditya Birla Nuvo, Gujarat Ambuja Cement, and Gujarat Heavy Chemicals (GHCL).
How--and why--the CIO of Gujarat Heavy Chemicals built a datacenter in a cyclone-prone, secluded sleepy little town--and saved crores.
GHCL, which manufactures soda ash--an essential ingredient for detergents, soaps, glass, and dyes--runs its entire chemical manufacturing business out of its Veraval plant, located barely a kilometer from the coast
But Veraval's picturesque setting hides a deadly reality: Its cyclone country. In 2005, a major cyclone hit the Veraval coast and severed GHCL's communication lines, bringing business to a standstill for several hours. "The first three things that go down when a cyclone hits are power supply, communications, and network channels," says Chandan Sinha, CIO, GHCL.
Since the plant generates its own electricity, powering its operations during the cyclone wasn't really an issue. Neither did the storm take down GHCL's rudimentary ERP and standalone applications because they were run locally from the plant. Its link to the outside world, its VSAT, however, was a different story.
"We had a VSAT link which was working erratically but it couldn't be used to access business applications. We could only use it for sporadic communication with other office locations during the cyclone," recalls Sinha. That incident made a deep impression on Sinha. At about the same time, GHCL was also planning to upgrade its ERP and wanted to build a full-fledged datacenter to provide the business with a strong back-end. The storm forced him to ask himself whether it was a great idea to set up the datacenter outside Veraval and connect users within the plan via a WAN. The other option was building it in Veraval, in the middle of nowhere, far from any support. It was something to think about.
Point of Failure
The Rs 1,930-crore GHCL produces about 2,300 tons of finished goods a day. These goods require about 6,000 tons of raw material. If you add it up, that's over 8,000 tons of material moving in and out of the plant--on an average--a day. Much of that movement is monitored using IT. When trucks carrying raw materials enter the plant, weigh bridges weigh them and generate a logistic invoice. Similarly, trucks on the way out loaded with finished goods also need an invoice. With about 450 trucks entering and exiting the plant every day, it's a lot of IT-dependant invoice creation. During peak hours, Sinha says, systems generate one invoice a minute. So when systems go down, invoices pile up, bringing production to a halt. "Not to mention the long cue of trucks outside my factory gates, which opens up another set of problems," says Sinha.
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