Soon, Meghraj to make it easy for IT

Meghraj, the new national cloud, will fundamentally change the way IT is procured by line ministries and departments

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Pratap Vikram Singh | March 7, 2014



The government agencies will soon have an alternative to the cumbersome process of procurement of software and hardware. Computing resources are now available on pay-per-use pricing model, as in the case of water, electricity and domestic fuel, making the rollout of online services easier. The department of electronics and information technology (DeitY) recently launched a national government cloud, Meghraj, giving ministries and departments of the centre and states the freedom to get computing resources on rent.

Once the cloud is ready, it will only take a week to roll out a service. Officials say that the cloud will accelerate “delivery of e-services while optimising ICT spending of the government” and will also help “departments to procure ICT services on demand”. Renu Budhiraja, senior director, DeitY, describes it  “a paradigm shift in the procurement of IT services”.

Normally the applications are hosted in a state data centre (SDC), a part of the core infrastructure set under the national e-governance plan (NeGP).

Budhiraja says that half of the rack space has already been used in several SDCs, where applications across line departments are being allocated. Andhra Pradesh is now implementing phase-II of the data centre project. Gujarat is managing e-services with two mini data centres and one SDC.

In the coming days, services under the education and health mission mode projects will also be hosted in SDCs. The electronic delivery of services legislation will further populate the SDCs. Besides, big data and business analytics will require significant storage and processing.

“We are already talking about the augmentation of the NDC (national data centre) located at Shastri Park area in Delhi,” says Budhiraja, indicating that the cloud is the preferred way out.

The plan is to have multiple government, public and dedicated (an intermediate model) clouds. Like NDC Delhi, DeitY will have cloud set up in Pune, Hyderabad and Bhubaneswar. These all will be managed by the NIC. But the big thrust will come from the public cloud, run by the private services providers, who will be accredited by the DeitY.

Getting cloud ready

The government will set up an architecture management office (AMO) by May to assist DeitY in formulating the guidelines for multiple clouds. These guidelines, expected to be notified this year, will prescribe standards of interoperability, integration, data security, portability, operational doctrines and contract management.

“The AMO will be responsible for defining guidelines on security addressing the various challenges, risks and for prescribing the approach for mitigating risks,” said the strategic paper. The DeitY will recruit professionals from the industry to man the AMO, adds Budhiraja. The department will also come up with a cloud services directory that will act as the single window portal for users.

The data, in the case of national clouds, will reside in data centres located within the country, and would not require any amendments to the IT act. The contracts, signed between the service provider and the user agency, will be legally binding.

DeitY has formed a working group headed by Infosys co-founder Kris Gopalakrishnan to recommend an overall policy framework for cloud services. In cases where the cloud service providers are based in other countries, the provisions for data ownership and security may require an amendment in the legislation. The cloud initiative will throw up huge business opportunities to the IT companies which will be running and managing the public (non-government) cloud.
The pricing of the cloud services will be based on the nature of data and the type of cloud. The user departments can host their sensitive data on government cloud. The cost of hosting in government cloud will be higher. Data with lesser sensitivity would be hosted in a dedicated cloud, offered by private service providers, but with stricter security standards. The data that falls in the public domain category would be hosted on public cloud, run by private service provider and at a cheaper cost.

For the national government cloud, DeitY has received 50 applications requests from central, state and district levels. The users which have requested for hosting applications include Delhi labour department, Kerala police, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and Standardisation Testing and Quality Certification (STQC) directorate, says Neeta Verma, DDG, NIC.              

Based on virtualisation technology (creating a virtual version of a computing resource), the Delhi NDC will have approximately 150 servers kept in 50 racks. “Two thousand virtual servers will be provisioned from the given infrastructure,” says Verma. Though no exact figure is available, the storage capacity of the cloud runs in petabytes. “As the load builds up, with more applications being hosted on the cloud, we will keep increasing the capacity.”

To start with, the NIC, which hosts 7,000 government websites in its internet data centre in Delhi, is migrating 2,000 of these portals to the NDC. In terms of savings, Verma reveals, based on the experience of managing these websites, the NIC will be able to manage portals with just one-fifth of the resources. Out of the 7,000 websites, 5,000 belong to states.

This will lead to substantial savings, not just on procurement but also  power bills, maintenance and human resources. “The recurring cost of running the data centres also goes down. My green index will go high. I will be able to accommodate more and more departments,” says Verma.

Those government agencies which have varying requirements—having peak and non peak hours—will be the key beneficiaries. She cites an example: “Let us assume in peak hours you (user organisations) may require 100 CPUs, though normally you require only 10 CPUs. These users have a direct incentive to move on the cloud. On an average we will assign 10 CPUs to an organisation but when they have a requirement we have the flexibility to provide additional servers.” The online services offered by educational institutions which witnesses increased web traffic in peak hours during disclosure of student results is one such case.

Giving a user’s perspective, AM Parial, CEO of CHIPS, says, “As of now the quality of service is driven by hardware capability. With cloud, hardware will not be a limiting factor. The quality of services will be boosted. Users will not have to deal with the technical aspects of rolling out an online service.”
All applications will be hosted in NDC based in Delhi and Hyderabad. “We are going to add Pune in another three months and Bhubaneswar a few months later. We will be able to offer choice to the users (state and central agencies),” says Verma.

The national cloud will offer: software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and storage of a service (StaaS). Soon the department will also add desktop as a service. Currently, six states, including Kerala, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal, are in advanced stages of selection of vendors for cloud enablement of SDCs.

(This story appeared in the March 1-15 print issue)

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