Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation Modernizes Ticketing System and Train Enquiry System with Red Hat Solutions

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May 6, 2010

Customer: Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Limited (IRCTC)

Industry: Government
Geography: APAC
Country: India


Business Challenge:

Needed to modernize ticketing and passenger services for the world’s busiest railway network and required an operating system to run multiple applications across various business units with a common, reliable, scalable, and cost-effective IT architecture with no vendor lock-in

Solution:

Implemented its mailing system and other enterprise-class applications, including Integrated Train Enquiry System, based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux Advanced Platform; these solutions enabled IRCTC to build cost-effective IT solutions while also making them reliable, flexible, and scalable

Software:

Red Hat Enterprise Linux Advanced Platform, including Linux Virtual Server (LVS), clustering, and file system technologies, Oracle database server (600 GB size with 10 million users), IBM WebSphere Server

Hardware:

HP Proliant DL 580 G4, HP Blade 465C Servers (Total RHEL Servers = Approx. 50)

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Background:

Indian Railways is the worldand#x2019;s busiest railway network, carrying 18 million passengers through approximately seven thousand railway stations every day. For the vast majority of Indiaand#x2019;s population, which exceeds one billion people, the railways form the lifeline of India as they provide an affordable, popular, and reliable means of transportation. The government owns the railway system, which was established in 1852. As part of the modernization drive for the 152-year-old network, a government decided catering, in-train services, and railway hotels etc. be separated into an autonomous organization. This resulted in the formation of the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Limited (IRCTC), a public sector company fully owned by the Ministry of Railways, Government of India. IRCTC was formed to modernize the services delivered to passengers, particularly at railway stations and within trains. Apart from managing catering and hospitality, IRCTCand#x2019;s mandate also includes promoting domestic and international tourism through the development of budget hotels, special tour packages, information and commercial publicity, and global reservation systems. IRCTC is best known for changing the railway ticketing process in India. IRCTC enables end customers to book tickets online through its website (www.irctc.co.in). Passengers can get their tickets at their door steps, can check fares, route schedules and availability in real time, and can receive periodic email alerts and notifications. Approximately, 255 thousand ticket reservations for 475 thousand Passengers are made via IRCTC every day. The on-line ticketing has grown 300% year on year.

Business Challenge:

After IRCTC launched the online ticket reservation system through its website (www.irctc.co.in) in 2002, the website quickly achieved the distinction of being the largest e-commerce portal in Asia. Because automatic confirmation and promotional emails were sent to a customer base that was increasing exponentially each day, the system had started exerting maximum pressure on IRCTC’s Webmail application. During peak loads of more than one thousand emails per minute, the Webmail server would frequently crash and reboot, which led to customer dissatisfaction. “With an average of about 700,000 emails per day, there was also a need to establish a robust Webmail server that could handle a large volume of inbound queries from customers and prospects,” said Sanjay Agrawal, general manager of IT Services at IRCTC.

Additionally, the IRCTC customer data is accurate and current as it is provided by customers. Various third-party organizations and institutions approached IRCTC to rent this vast database for promotional marketing. These promotional mails would be sent through the IRCTC mail server. “This was a new revenue line for us which has the potential to give us incremental revenue thus strengthening our top line,” said Agrawal.

IRCTC was also planning to overhaul its current train enquiry system. The present train enquiry system was a zone-based system. “This means that the enquiry system was divided into various zones such as western, eastern, north-west, central etc. in accordance with country’s rail network,” said Ms. Rajni Hasija, group general manager – ITS in IRCTC. Such zonal system was leading to various service related problems. The main issue was that such system was leading to many numbers divided zone wise for train enquiries thus creating lot of confusion for the passengers.

“As India is a large country, a person traveling from south to north would in turn travel through different rail zones and thus need to remember different numbers as they change zone wise,” said Ms. Hasija. Additionally, it was becoming difficult for each zone to continuously update itself as trains traverse from one zone to the other. This meant that the system was not able to provide accurate information to the passengers. “To resolve these issues, we decided to build an integrated train enquiry system so that we can have one single number for train related enquiries and also we can offer other related services through this system,” said Ms. Hasija. So, IRCTC needed a high performance and high availability system so as to handle the expected load of about 1 million calls per day.

“To cater to these complexities, we required a scalable, reliable, and cost-effective system,” said Agrawal. The firm decided to set up a modern IT infrastructure that could keep pace with business growth. “Since we had the advantage of starting off with a clean slate, we decided to build the infrastructure based on open standards. Red Hat’s open source architecture met our requirements by providing flexibility, interoperability, and confidence as on enterprise platform. We thus selected Red Hat as our trusted technology partner.”

Solution:

Selecting Red Hat Enterprise Linux Advanced Platform was simple for IRCTC as it is reliable, enterprise-class, high-performing, Oracle-certified, affordable, and includes dedicated 24×7 support, all of these formed critical parameters for IRCTC for evaluating any technological platform. In the last seven years of using the platform, IRCTC has upgraded the infrastructure from its original Red Hat Enterprise Linux 2.1 to today’s Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, enhancing the performance multi-fold.

Working alongside Red Hat Consulting experts, IRCTC’s IT team created a customized open-source based mailing solution to fulfill the organization’s inbound and outbound mailing needs. “We received excellent support from Red Hat Consulting team in the creation of an innovative and cost-effective approach to our mailing needs,” said Agrawal. IRCTC uses Red Hat’s Global Professional Service to obtain sound support on these systems. “In addition to Red Hat’s 24×7 support, we have a dedicated RHCE Engineer to assist us day-to-day,” said Mr. Tiwari, assistant manager, IT at IRCTC. Red Hat Consulting continues to assist IRCTC with its Webmail server enhancements. It revamped the entire mailing solution in a month’s time. “The system is now consistent and scalable enough to handle up to 3-4 times current mail flow statistics,” said Agrawal.

Since the success of its Red Hat implementation, IRCTC decided to build the Integrated Train Enquiry System (ITES) based on Red Hat solutions only. “Oracle database on Red Hat Enterprise Linux was already being successfully tested for high performance. So we decided to again rely on the robust Red Hat system,” said Ms. Hasija This system entailed setting up regional call centers and providing a single number for customers to contact IRCTC’s customer care team. “We call it a 139 Rail Sampark Service,” said Ms. Hasija.

Currently, the Avaya call center application is running on 30 IBM WebSphere servers using Oracle database, which are in turn running on Red Hat Enterprise Linux. “The implementation was quite smooth thanks to Red Hat’s robust products and dedicated support,” said Ms. Hasija. The system is not limited only to train enquiry but also provides additional train enquiry related services such as PNR information, train fare, route details, train schedule details etc. ITES is one of the largest IT projects taken up by IRCTC in the recent past. Today, ITES on RHEL platform is handling around 600-800 thousand calls per day and about 1.2 million calls during holidays. “Red Hat has helped us build a one stop solution for all the rail related enquiries,” said Ms. Haisja.

Benefits:

“Red Hat helped us to create a common platform for our service structure, which consists of railway reservations, and other bookings including hotels,” said Agrawal. “This was possible only because we relied on Red Hat’s open source solutions.”

Red Hat solutions have helped IRCTC to achieve near zero downtime and to receive information in real time. “Our customer base has increased exponentially over the years, which we owe in part to Red Hat’s reliable and high-performing solutions,” said Agrawal. Red Hat solutions also helped IRCTC to build a secure eCommerce application.

Red Hat’s subscription-based model has proved to IRCTC that not only are its solutions affordable, but they also require little maintenance. Since Red Hat solutions can be deployed on non-RISC commodity hardware without any significant compromise in performance, they have allowed IRCTC to cut their hardware deployment costs and also enabled them to start the project quickly with a wide selection of hardware vendors.

IRCTC is planning to deploy the new version of its e-commerce Web portal, which was developed in BroadVision, on Red Hat Enterprise Linux Advanced Platform. “Currently 80 percent of our servers run on Red Hat Enterprise Linux Advanced Platform and that percentage is increasing day by day,” said Agrawal.

“Having successfully run our mission critical systems and applications using Red Hat solutions, we look to Red Hat as our trusted technology advisor for any kind of enterprise application implementation and we place its solutions firmly within our radar for future deployments,” said Agrawal.

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