Bharati Vidyapeeth Opens its Gates to Open Source

Bharati Vidyapeeth Opens its Gates to Open SourcePune-headquartered Bharati Vidyapeeth has its institutions spread across India. In 2009, it adopted open source technology when it implemented the TechnoMail enterprise mailing solution to fulfil its communication needs.

With around 180 educational institutions under its umbrella, Bharati Vidyapeeth has become a leading national-level educational organisation. Today, it touches the lives of 2.5-lakh students, employs around 8,000 people and has used open source technology for smooth communication across the board to improve productivity. TechnoMail, the enterprise mailing solution by TechnoInfotech built on an enterprise Linux platform, was adopted in 2009 to provide a single communication platform that went a step ahead of just e-mail and catered to the organisation’s active and passive communication.

How were the open source seeds sown?

Having grown by leaps and bounds in a short span of time, Bharati Vidyapeeth realised the need to streamline its de-centralised IT infrastructure and operations to sustain growth. “There was a need to study the latest trends in technology and implement them to make administration and teaching more convenient and productive,” says Satyajit Hange, director (technology), Bharati Vidyapeeth.

The first step towards that was creating a centralised IT department to evaluate, manage and standardise the IT infrastructure of close to 15,000 personal computers. The department was entrusted with the task of establishing a strong communication system that was scalable, accessible from any location, available 24×7, had a simple and comprehensive user interface and complete managed services. Thus, in 2009, the organisation adopted the open source TechnoMail solution.

Built on the CentOS distribution and with features like Qmail MTA, MailScanner, SpamAssassin, ClamAV anti-virus, Squirrel Mail, Group Office (a Web-based collaboration suite), MySQL, Joomla CMS, and a customised administration panel using a PHP and Ajax interface, TechnoMail was a perfect fit for Bharati Vidyapeeth.

“We needed a single communication platform like TechnoMail to first make e-mail the primary mode of communication within the Bharati Vidyapeeth group. Further, it also provided a platform for employees to share knowledge, opinions and views via blogs and a centralised portal to address passive communication needs like the latest happenings in the group, news, internal circulars and notices,” says Hange.

But why open source?

However, winning over Bharati Vidyapeeth wasn’t easy for this open source enterprise mail solution vendor. Competing against Microsoft Exchange and IBM Lotus Notes, it was a severe battle for TechnoMail. “The robustness, scalability and cost-effectiveness of TechnoMail made us swing the open source way,” says Hange.

Prior success stories in the education domain, too, tilted the balance towards TechnoMail. According to Sanjay Gurav, director, TechnoInfotech, “We have been working on the open source stack, which gave us a strong foothold in the education sector, bagging premium university clients in Maharashtra. In the University of Pune, we delivered a completely customised mailing solution with the assured scalability of 1,00,000 users. This gave Satyajit Hange the confidence to use our mailing solution.”?

“TechnoMail not only extended the open source advantages in terms of no user-based licensing, built-in spam control, virus filtering, a feature-rich collaborative user interface, but also offered an extremely flexible approach to building a centralised communication portal. It was a very cost-effective email infrastructure solution with value-added features like the integrated content management system and the recent customised SMS management application on the same server that addressed our bulk SMS needs, especially SMS in Marathi,” says Hange.

Further, TechnoMail uses a complete stack of open source components with no user-based licensing, making it a scalable solution. “Bharati Vidyapeeth Group decided to go in for the HP Integrity High Availability server for TechnoMail. The entire solution runs on the HP Integrity rx2660 server. There was great synergy between TechnoMail and HP Integrity that ensured scalability, performance and investment protection,” says Gurav.

Vivekanand Dhareshwar, country lead, Business Critical Systems for HP’s ESSN Channel, says: “The Integrity servers provided best in class performance for Bharati Vidyapeeth’s data-intensive workload. The servers use a chipset that delivers very high bandwidths for superior real time performance, and RAS features at every component such as the CPU, memory and I/O. Bharati Vidyapeeth will also benefit from the fact that they can run the TechnoMail application round-the-clock because the RAS features allow these servers to be used in a 24 x 7 x 365 environment.”

“We had planned for 500 users to start with, while evaluating other options. But after implementing TechnoMail we stopped bothering about the number of incremental users we add to TechnoMail. Our growing user base is currently about 2,500 users, a number we reached in just five months,” says Hange. The stability of the solution, the flexible approach, and the strong and responsive backend support further complemented Bharati Vidyapeeth’s growth.

The housing of the TechnoMail solution at the Cyquator Internet Data Centre, a third-party hosting provider, in Pune, made the solution more robust. But why a third party hosting provider?

“It would have taken at least a year to establish a data centre with in-house expertise, managing the IT infrastructure 24×7 to achieve at least 99 per cent uptime of the communication portal. Cyquator, located in Pune, with a state-of-the-art infrastructure, assured us 24×7 uptime, physical security, power back-ups, support, firewalls, etc. The IDC gave us better bandwidth, faster access being in India, access from any of our locations through the Internet, no immediate need to have private network, security to our server through the firewall, besides 24×7 availability of support and access to our server,” says Hange. Further, the data centre put a back-up server to ensure real-time data and configuration back-up, safeguarding the set-up in case of any failure.

Acceptance and maintenance

Though TechnoMail offered a centralised communication portal to Bharati Vidyapeeth, the TechnoMail route wasn’t entirely smooth sailing. Acceptance by employees and solution maintenance were two hurdles the institute foresaw and they took concrete steps with assistance from TechnoInfotech to overcome these. “We had training sessions with the TechnoInfotech team at all our campuses before launching the Communication Portal. For most users who were already using their personal or college mail IDs through the public mail and college domain, the shift was a cakewalk. Now, we have a helpdesk managed by the Technology Department to cater to user related queries,” says Hange.

For support and services, TechnoInfotech too left no stone unturned. “We assured the organisation complete server management services along with TechnoMail, eliminating the need for a Linux expert in-house. The entire back-end support is available from TechnoInfotech through their centralised support team in Mumbai. The solution is strongly backed by an efficient support infrastructure and responsive team,” says Gurav.

“At HP, Integrity is more than technology — it’s a mission-critical infrastructure. The Integrity platform provides a unique combination of mission critical availability, virtualisation and scalability. TechnoMail was benchmarked on HP’s integrity range of servers for this deployment. The Integrity rx 2660 server will help support the required number of users for Bharati Vidyapeeth,” says Dhareshwar.

Looking ahead, Bharati Vidyapeeth hopes to use more of open source technology. “We have started evaluating open source solutions that will complement our growth plans,” says Hange. With Bharati Vidyapeeth opening its gates to open source technology, more and more educational institutions may follow suit.

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