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Indian Railways' crew management system: A home-bred success story

Jasmine Desai, Principal Correspondent
From the time of the first railway line in 1856 till today, Indian Railways has had a life of its own, growing and changing with times. Indian Railways' rendezvous with technology took place in a major way in 1986 after the inception of the centre for railway information systems (CRIS). Over the years, CRIS has fully satisfied its role as the umbrella organization for all IT related activities at Indian Railways. Today, CRIS is a project-oriented organization engaged in the development of major computer systems for the railways, with over 200 employees nationwide. One of the major projects undertaken at CRIS has been the

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crew management system (CMS) for Indian Railways. It has changed the way Indian Railways manages its vast number of employees through this IT backbone.

With 55,000 employees in its central management system database, the results are indeed worth a standing ovation. "The important thing is an assurance that the crew is being utilized well. This way it helps us grade the crew," says Deepak Ganju, the general manager of project III for CRIS. As a workflow-based system, CMS enables remote management and is customizable.

Indian Railways' crew management system is an in-house project. After being sanctioned in March 2006 at a cost of Rs 38 crore for a 306-crew booking point in Indian Railways, the crew management system has attracted interest even from different metro projects. Currently, the crew management system is being used only for freight, shunting and coaching trains. It is a 24/7 browser-based application running on thin-client fixed at various lobbies. The crew management system uses n-tier J2EE architecture using struts framework supporting open standards.
The important thing is an assurance that the workforce is being utilized well. This way it helps us grade the crew.
Deepak Ganju
GM-ProjectsCRIS

The crew management system's IT pillar

According to CRIS officials, the crew management system's launch was not an easy task. After preparing the vision document, the team determined load based on factors like number of crew, trains, and lobbies (small and big). The big lobby handles around 500 trains and the small ones manage nearly 200 trains every day. Apart from this, transactions per second were calculated.

Once all the parameters were in place (including data growth), CRIS undertook the server design. During load calculation, it became important to understand maximum application load expected on the system, in order to avert unwanted project costs.

In 2006, Indian Railways carried out its proof of concept (POC) project at a departmental level in Ratlam and Baroda divisions. The crew management system's PoC was managed with a single HP server running Oracle database and an Oracle application. During the crew management system rollout, the presence of multiple vendors for different features created issues. The server design was finally evaluated by vendors like HP and IBM.

In 2007, when the crew management system project was finally sanctioned, CRIS went in for pilot phase in five divisions. At this point, the deployment consisted of five IBM x346 servers. In 2008, the rollout process was started for 150 lobbies. By then, the number of x346 servers had increased to 13. Apart from these, the crew management system also uses two IBM Power 550 servers in a clustered environment. Other servers are also in place for external storage, with IBM Tivoli being used for backup. On the storage front, CRIS uses IBM x3200 SAN storage and tape drives. RAID 5 is being used with a storage capacity of 1 TB.

In 2009, the crew management system's second phase was rolled out, in which remaining lobbies were covered—an extra CPU and RAM was added to the earlier phase-one servers. Now the servers have RAM specifications of of 4 GB. At the moment, the crew management system sees a per day data growth of around 1 GB.

Each server is capable of doing up to 4,00,000 transactions per second, which is seeing 50 per cent utilization at present. The servers are situated in CRIS' data center at Chanakyapuri in Delhi.

Talking about the impact of crew management system, Ganju says, "No matter how sophisticated the technology we used, all our efforst would have been in vain if was not user-friendly." As a result of this realization, Indian Railways identified 6,000 users for training on the crew management system. Indian Railways also chose 1,000 core implementers.

The scale of the crew management system project has also increased in magnitude. Earlier, there were six servers, whereas now there are six server racks. In 2005-06, the budget was around Rs 20 crore per year, and now it's in the range of Rs 110 crore per annum. At present, 56 racks reside in CRIS' data center.

With such a plethora of applications, the data center's landscape has also changed. According to CRIS, server virtualization is definitely on the map. As far as the data center infrastructure's capabilities are concerned, this will definitely boost Indian Railways' IT capabilities to the next level.