Storage: A Must-Have Center for Telcos

VoicenData Bureau
New Update

A simple data can tell several stories. And when that data is about a

population as diverse as India, inevitably the story would be really

interesting. Telecom companies have always been close to the customer and have a

real opportunity of storing, managing and utilizing a whole lot of data. But the

question today is, are Indian telecom service providers doing enough on the

storage front? The fact is that even today large telecom companies do not

maintain a call data record, leave alone subscriber profiles.


Technology is changing so fast that a simple phone company is today becoming

an information service provider. Tomorrow they will become multimedia service

providers. With such dramatic changes happening, the challenges and issues on

the storage front also is getting complex.

To discuss this important topic, VOICE&DATA invited the technology

community of Indian telecom service providers to its Top View platform. The key

panelists were: Shanker Haldar, CTO, Escotel; Anuj Kumar Srivastav, GM (business

development), MTNL, Jagbir Singh, V-P (technology), Bharti Telenet; Rakesh

Kumar, joint DDG (strategic planning), BSNL, Deepak Maheshwari, head (corporate

affairs), Satyam Infoway, and Anupam Nagar, head (storage solutions), HP.


ensued was a very interesting and informative panel discussion.


Storage: Cost Center or Profit Center?

Anuj Kumar Srivastav, MTNL: I view storage in telecom a cost leading to
profit. Definitely we have to inculcate cost in storage, but it will lead to


Shanker Haldar, Escotel: The cost per megabyte for a simple storage

solution is coming down everyday. On the other side, the value for data, which

is there in the storage system, is going phenomenally higher because if you need

to do anything, you need to have data. So storage should be looked as a profit


Deepak Maheshwari, Satyam Infoway: In case of ISPs, the major

investment in the storage goes towards the caching devices, because for ISPs,

one has to do a balancing act between bandwidth required and the type of

investment one can put in an effective caching mechanism. Thanks to caching

investment, customers get much better speed than they get without it.

Ultimately, yes, we do believe that investment in caching or storage goes

towards profit line.


Deepak Maheshwari, head

(corporate affairs), Satyam Infoway

“The amount that we get as revenue per minute access is much less than the cost of putting these things in storage.”

Rakesh Kumar, BSNL: I don’t know about cost center or profit center,

but it is a must-have center for any operator operating in the competitive

environment. A lot of competition is coming in and we have to make sure that

valued customers stay with us. So you have to know what the customer wants. Also

you have to catch the right customer. Storage devices help you to identify and

segment your customers.

Jagbir Singh, Bharti Telenet: At Bharti, we have license for ISP,

basic services, ILD, NLD and mobility. We have just launched DSL in Bangalore,

Chennai, Delhi and Gurgaon. It was very difficult for us to do the market

estimation. Everybody does market research and most of the times we find that

research is like 20 percent this side or that side. So, for us to take the

decision of the implementation of the DSLAM equipment or DSL as a technology,

which pockets, e.g. in Delhi should we deploy DSL? What we did was that, having

the ISP services of Mantra in Delhi, we went through the data that we had for

these and we did lot of analysis. What is the kind of customers who are high

usage customers? The customers who are using Internet more than 40 hours or 50

hours could be the potential customers for broadband applications. Straight away

we took the advantage of data storage.


Telco storage spending–the quantum?

Anupam Nagar, HP:
Till last year, anyone purchasing a storage solution that was

larger than 5-6 terabytes was amazing. Last month we closed a deal for 75

terabytes. We are talking of a huge number of terabytes now.

Shanker Haldar: The telecom industry worldwide has invested heavily on

storage. In India, we are realizing that how important storage is. All

companies, especially cellular companies have started investing or planning to

invest heavily in storage solutions. In terms of overall percentage of IT

budget, I would consider 15—20 percent could go into the storage solutions.

Jagbir Singh: At Bharti, we have 10 percent of the overall budget as

IT budget, which includes storage like SAN, disaster recovery based in Chennai.

Everything is duplicated whether it is Airtel, NLD, ILD, or TouchTel. So we are

very much focused on the storage side and we are not counting pennies in this

area and IT budget is increasing every year.


Rakesh Kumar, joint DDG

(strategic planning), BSNL

“We are talking of petabytes. Storing that huge an amount of data, across the country, is a challenge.”

Rakesh Kumar: Basically, we already have a huge IT infrastructure,

billing systems at all head offices and fault systems are all computerized. All

centers are coming up with integrated commercial records. But, what is really

missing and is what we are going to take up in the CDR-based storage centers. We

are a player in all the telecom services ISP, NLD, ILD, data solutions. So we

need a converged storage solution. Because of regulation we have to have a

separate storage center for billing. We hope in future regulation will allow

bundling of services, which is a must for the industry to sustain itself.

Anupam Nagar: The issue is not the storage per mega byte cost.

Worldwide, it is the cost of managing the storage, which is more expensive than

storage itself. The environment you are envisaging for yourself really matters.

Are you looking at a single site or multiple sites? Are you looking at disaster

recovery centers, back up data, how many systems are you going to invest in,

what level of systems are you going to invest in? All these basically are the

factors that decide the final cost of data for storage.


Jagbir Singh: You can have lot of data but if you cannot make use of

the data then there is no point in having storage. So we have to make sure the

data is available when we launch any new product or service. So how much it goes

in analysis and how much in storage, I would say 50:50. But we should be clear

what data to store and how to store.

Deepak Maheshwari: First of all, let us understand why the data is

increasing. Its not that the info is increasing. For example, if you are writing

a simple e-mail to somebody using text e-mail, probably about 100 words, it

would be within 2.5 kB. If you put the same information in presentation format,

it will go beyond 1 MB. Earlier people had smaller mailboxes. Today people have

100 or 200 MB mailboxes on the company server. There is lot of unnecessary data.

So its very important that apart from storing information, you need to keep on


Shanker Haldar

CTO, Escotel Mobile

“Customization is the call of the day, which is possible only if you have sufficient customer data.”


Coming back to investment, I think for ISPs the percentage is 20—25 because

in ISP business storage is itself offered as a service in terms of Web hosting,

e-mail space or personal Web pages. There is additional revenue from direct

investment in storage.

Anuj Kumar Srivastav: Storage has to be completely analyzed in terms

of the box, its sharing points, its security aspect, and its encryption and how

much it will cost both the operator and the customer.

Regulatory requirements

Deepak Maheshwari:
Basically I would say there are three regulatory

consequences. One is in terms of billing disputes. If any subscriber has any

billing dispute, whenever he approaches the service provider, there should be a

mechanism to actually establish what were the calls made in the terms of the

CDR. Maybe only 0.1 percent of your subscribers might have those kind of issues,

but you do not know which those are. So probably, for a period of six months to

one year, people will have to keep that kind of records in place. That’s one.

Second consequence is in terms of the security agencies. When they come to you,

especially in case of ISPs, asking for historical records, they give you an IP

address or sample of an e-mail that got terminated or originated in your server.

The amount that we get as revenue per minute access is much less than the cost

of putting these things in storage. The third consequence is in terms of QoS,

which is a regulation of TRAI, which earlier came for basic services, and now it

is also for Internet services. Although, it is not much about storage as of now,

but I guess at a later date they may ask not only in terms of ease of

connectivity and other things, but in terms of actual data delivery. What are

the rates there? This is right now beyond the regulation.

Jagbir Singh: The customer would like to see a unified bill. So having

storage and making it shareable with other operators is something that we all

will have to do. It is already happening in other countries.

Shanker Haldar: Today, there is a very strong regulation from the

government. By the end of 31 August, we are supposed to collect all the

information from the prepaid customers of the whole country. Just imagine the

volume of data. Out of the 8 million customers, I think 60 percent would be

prepaid, which means that we need to collect data of 5 million customers and

store and use. So this was a need coming from the regulatory perspective and now

we are thinking how to store the data and deploy it in a profitable manner. We

never knew three months ago how to collect the data because it was not

available. But today, we have got it.

What all to Store?

Anuj Kumar Srivastav: It is not proper to say at this stage that we can
store all the data of subscribers. We try to store as much as possible from the

customer’s point of view for giving the services in a better way. The most

important thing is that we are storing the billing aspect and we have CDR-based

billing which helps the marketing people to focus on the subscribers, on the

segment and services that have to be provided to them. But, yes, there are

certain gaps between what we are storing and what we envisage to store.

AK Srivastav, GM

(business development), MTNL

“Storage has to be completely analyzed in terms of the box, sharing points, the

security aspect, and cost.”

Shanker Haldar: I think what you need to store is a company decision.

You need to decide what you do with the data. For a mobile company, fundamental

data is the CDR data because you can get carrier settlement related or customer

related data from it. And we have been storing it. Second is the subscriber

profile, which we have been storing for the post-paid customer because you

capture it when he comes to the network but we realize that the prepaid

customers base is getting bigger and bigger and we are not capturing the data.

There is a gap there.

Jagbir Singh: You cannot foresee everything upfront. There would

always be new ideas and market forces coming, so you need to keep looking for

new data. Sharing the database among the service providers might give us some

results. I would say two parts of data are important. Another data that can be

effectively used is related to frauds. But we have to figure out how to use that

data or fraud management. So we have to be clear, why do we need the data and

how can we store it. It is a never-ending process actually.

Rakesh Kumar: The real issue is not storing all the data but analyzing

all the data. How do you analyze the data has to be addressed. We have data

stored; you can access the whole directory from the Web. We have commercial

records of all our customers spread all over the country. The real issue is

integrating them and having tools to analyze that data. There is no end to

capturing data. BSNL has to store additional data not only for interconnect

issues but also for the local CDRs so that they can show what kind of traffic

patterns we are following.

Anupam Nagar: A very unique study done by the University of Berkley

calculated that in the history of mankind, from the first cave painting to data,

the amount of data that has been created could be roughly equated to 24

hexabytes. The interesting thing is that they say it will double in the next two

years. So what we are talking about is a huge explosion. Lot of this explosion

will come from the content changing so rapidly that we will need to actually

scramble for more storage. As we get on more value-added services on the same

customer base, we will need to know more about their information. So, though we

currently may be storing only some part of our customer profile, we may over a

period of time revisit these records and get down into things like asking the

customer what size of shirt he wears, etc. Tomorrow it may be a reality. The

deeper each level you go into, the size of storage growth will be exponential in

terms of capacity.

The Storage Challenge

Shanker Haldar: We know we need to have storage, but do we know what we
need to have? The first challenge for any organization is to agree and prepare

storage policy on the basis of what they need. Quite often, it happens that if

you have not done this job before and you start putting in the solutions, then

it becomes difficult for you to justify to your boss that you need it.

Eventually, if you cannot prove your point, you do not get it. Fundamentally,

you must know what you need. Once you know that, your major hurdle is over. Once

you have been able to do that, there is the question of tabling the potential

threat to the data. If you determine the potential loss, it would be far easier

to convince the finance people.

Anupam Nagar, head

(storage solutions), HP India

“Worldwide, it is managing

storage that is more expensive than storage itself.”

Rakesh Kumar: We tend to believe that technology has solutions to

everything, but storing telco data is still a technological challenge because we

are not talking of gigabytes or megabytes of data or even terabytes of data. We

are talking of petabytes of data. So storing that huge amount of data, spread

through the length and breadth of the country, is a challenge. I don’t think

that the database systems as they exist today, really solve the problem. So we

have to address that. The next challenge is the security of data because this

data has to be shared. Since we are a service provider, which serves the whole

country, this data has to be shared.

Anupam Nagar: The criticality of storage as an integral part of

infrastructure is becoming apparent now. So only over a period of time very

serious or very comprehensive roadmaps will be visible. But, what we see now is

encouraging and we are definitely on the right track. In terms of challenges

that we see being faced, there are commercial challenges because RoI is

something every CFO worth his salt will ask. It is therefore important for

solution providers to ensure that not only do we provide a solution; we also

provide enough inputs to justify the RoI for our clients.

Expectations from Vendors

Jagbir Singh: One expectation is support in terms of business case. How
are other international operators justifying the RoI? Two, I would say is the

technology roadmap. Today I can have this much storage in this much square feet

of area but going forward how the technology is going to enable better utilization of this space? Three, I would say insight about how to utilize

storage or database actually in the context of the business. It is not only RoI

but also keeping in mind the multiple applications or the uses of storage. Four,

disaster recovery. How can we have the disaster recovery of all the storage?

Rakesh Kumar: I would be concerned about open standards being

followed. Because BSNL has bandwidth and PoPs throughout the country, data

centers make very good business sense for us. I would like to know that whatever

storage solution I am building up can be leveraged as an additional service.

Shanker Haldar: I would expect any business partner who works with us

will understand our needs and tell us what solution is best for us because

solution gets changed based on the needs of the company. Second would be

preparing a business case with their assistance and inputs. It is very important

to start right now and not discover a mistake after two years. Third is that

they should share the technology advances which happen because support will be

critical in the near future.

Jagbir Singh, V-P (technology)

Bharti Telenet

“Having storage and making it shareable with other operators, is something that we all will have to do.”

Churn Management through Storage

We are talking of RoI and how we can justify data management and

data storage. I think one issue is churn management. Till today we had only a

monopolistic operator in basic services and two cellular operators. We did not

have much to do about churn. But if you see worldwide, 20% churn is very

natural. If there are 10 million customers, then there is 2 million churn

happening. And if you believe, I do CRM and data storage and all these things

and I can avoid 50% of that churn that is 1 million churn. If you say 1 million

churn acquiring is $100 the $100 million is saving in the churn and that is my

saving. So I think churn could be a big issue with multiple operators coming to

the picture and that will justify a lot of expense going in to storage of data.

Jagbir Singh: As you customer base keeps increasing, your storage

needs keep increasing. And as said, you cannot throw what you already have. You

need to use it for at least 3-4 years to make it zero value or take it out from

the books.

Storage Services

What about storage, which is part of a new service? Like providing

storage service itself as a B2B service or video on demand or B2C services where

storage just helps in optimizing the process or operational efficiency but it is

a part of the new service. IS there any plan by any of the fixed service

providers for this?

Jagbir Singh: This is the big issue and we have not done anything in

this area, we wanted to offer gaming. We were talking to Microsoft, Disney and

offering movies on demand on DSL services, video streaming. This is certainly a

big area. In Korea, for example, where the content is available locally and is

question of cashing in on local content. It is a big area and we need to

explore. We are working on it but nothing is in place as yet.

Rakesh Kumar: I would like to add from BSNL’s point of view, we

consider ourselves to be natural players in this because of the bandwidth and

the PoPs, secure space, ACs, throughout the country for storing this and though

we have not marketed it, but we have already started web hosting services

throughout the country. We have also floated an expression of interest in order

to usher in the broadband era in our country so that if anybody who has content

and wants to distribute it, we offer them the location and the last mile to any

broadband service provider.

Nareshchandra Laishram