Indian business finds muscle in free software

Monday, 30 June 2003, 07:00 Hrs
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MUMBAI: For banks and hospitals, to software houses and prestigious technological institutions in India, the charm of Free/Libre and Open Source Software is casting a spell that is pushing many here to venture into uncharted fields.

"Once big names like IBM, Oracle and Sun started supporting Linux in a big way, confidence levels of the industry grew," explains Neeraj Bhai, chief technical officer of India's young private sector technology-driven IDBI Bank. It has 98 banking offices and 274 ATMs across the country.

Linux is used here for e-mail servers, Internet messaging, intrusion detection systems, Oracle-based applications on human resources and finance, and even an interactive voice response system (IVRS).

Free or Open Source software, unlike its proprietary counterpart, allows its users the freedom to run, study, redistribute and improve its code. It is getting increasing attention in India, a country considered a software superpower with a specialisation in IT services.

"Our doctors are very happy," says Dilip M. Desai, information systems manager at the prestigious Breach Candy hospital here.

Free software tools in this hospital captures data from the central server and display it on personal computers.

Of late, the histopathology department of the hospital is looking at using a Linux-based solution to track reports of cancer patients that need to maintain records over long years of the disease.

Says Desai: "Linux has resulted in a considerable cost reduction for software. There is a high level of security and it adds to the longevity of legacy systems.

"It is also very stable, and needs little support, besides being less vulnerable to various attacks."

In Andhra Pradesh, another IT pioneer, officer N.C. Nagarjuna Reddy's department has deployed a free software solution for preserving land records, some of which are centuries old.

Despite the teething problems, GNU/Linux solutions were taken to 103 locations in 2001, another 136 in 2002 and an addition 148 recently. "Since Linux is very mean in using resources, we started using desktops as servers," said Reddy.

"An entry-level server with Unix could have cost about 200,000. We got a desktop server with Linux for just 45,000. You may multiply the figure with 387 (locations)," he said, proudly pointing to the money saved.

"I am not an evangelist, but definitely a fan of Open Source," said Gautam Shroff, head of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) architecture and technology practice.

Shroff hints of TCS's plans to launch an Open Source laboratory in Delhi, possibly involving IBM and redhat India.

"Upto 10-12 years back, every system we got from abroad required to be supplied with the source code. Now, everything (we buy) is a black box (in which it's hard to say what goes)," said Bhabha Atomic Research Centre associate director Harish Kumar Kaura.

BARC provides research and development support to India's nuclear power reactor programme -- which has an installed capacity of 2,000 MW and plans for a ten-fold increase by the year 2020.

Kaura hinted at the pressures that came in the field of technology-transfer following India's nuclear blasts in 1998, a problem that doesn't afflict free software users.

Security concerns are also important for such operations.

In the financial world, Free Software is being deployed in stock exchanges, like the National Stock Exchange (NSE), which covers 360 cities and towns.

The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Mumbai's computer centre head G. Sivakumar, says free software is being deployed for its firewalls, load balancing, traffic control, domain name services, e-mail services, blocking out 'bad stuff' such as pirated entertainment and pornography.

Sivakumar argues that IIT Mumbai is not only a "consumer" of GNU/Linux, but is also contributing by creating free software solutions.

Sachin Dabir, head of enterprise sales at redhat India says their product was going onto 6,000 desktops in schools in north India.
Source: IANS
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