Roshan rebuilds infrastructure

Roshan has implemented a range of EMC’s storage solutions as part of its US$120 million IT project to be complete over the next decade.

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By  Sarah Gain Published  August 21, 2005

|~|AFG---LEAD-PHOTO---Body.jpg|~||~|As Afghanistan rebuilds its infrastructure, the war-torn nation’s GSM wireless provider Roshan has teamed up with the EMC’s Dubai operation. Under the partnership, the telecommunications company has deployed a range of EMC ‘s storage solutions. Having commenced sales of its GSM digital services in July 2004, Roshan ended the year with 23 cities covered. Today, Roshan's network covers more than 30 cities, making it Afghanistan's largest and fastest growing GSM mobile operator.

With a total planned investment of over US$120 million over the next decade, it has already completed phase one and two of an aggressive phased network rollout. According to His Excellency, Masoom Stanekzay, Afghanistan’s Minister of Communications, “The work that Roshan is undertaking is integral to the overall reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and through a continually growing and improving telecommunications platform, Afghans are being reunited with their families, being more productive in running their businesses, and more importantly becoming part of the global economy.”

By using mobile devices, local businesses are becoming more productive and efficient, as they are now able to co-ordinate orders and shipments with suppliers whether they are in Mazar-e-Sharif, Jalalabad or Iran. For many, according to Roshan’s CEO, Karim Khoja, a mobile phone is a lifeline.

“Roshan means “light” in Afghanistan’s two most widely-spoken languages, Dari and Pashto. We conduct a lot of market research and it is clear that mobile technology represents hope, security, freedom and the ability to do business and communicate with loved ones for the first time in many years. Many customers would sacrifice a meal and will buy a phone for their family because being able to just communicate is so important to them. Roshan understands the value our service brings to Afghans and we are working hard to connect the [nation],” Khoja explains.

Like many telcos in the region, Roshan is now taking steps to ensure its IT infrastructure can keep up with demands as the company grows and as part of its overall business continuity strategy, the operator has implemented two EMC Symmetrix DMX1000 information storage systems.

These systems are optimised for server consolidation and heavy transaction-processing loads. They are designed to protect and recover vital corporate data should there be any unplanned downtime. “There is no electricity in many cities where we work. Our 24/7 network is a crucial service for our customers, but in all our locations, we have to generate power. It’s a challenge and it means we do suffer relatively frequent power outages,” explains Khoja. ||**|||~|AFGB---PHOTO-2---Karim-Khoj.jpg|~|Khoja: For a lot of people, mobile technology represents hope, security, freedom and the ability to do business and communicate with loved ones for the first time in many years.|~|Roshan had not been using any specific data storage system for the last two years and had been storing crucial customer information on its basic core systems. The company urgently needed to update to a more robust information management system that could cope with its demanding environment. EMC’s Symmetrix system was chosen following market analysis and corroboration from Roshan’s consortium of owners.

“We were getting to our critical mass, with hundreds of thousands of customers generating huge data records that need to be stored on-site and then must be able to link to the CRM system. Our licence required us to have adequate storage for customer information and we were looking for reliability, quality and cost-effectiveness. And it’s not just about buying the system — we needed the support and the help with training for our Afghan staff,” Khoja notes.

A team of ten qualified engineers from Roshan, EMC and the vendor’s authorised integrator Al Moayed Group, carried out the implementation of the two single-bay Symmetrix 1000 storage systems. The solution is designed to provide Roshan with optimal comprehensive business continuity protection.

“With an established presence in Afghanistan and a long-standing relationship with Roshan, having worked with it in the past on a number of projects, Al Moayed was the ideal ally for this endeavour,” says Mohammed Amin, regional manager of EMC Middle East. “The implementation ran extremely smoothly and the team worked well together. We overcame all the problems that we encountered, and we now have the technology successfully implemented. We started as a supplier and we ended up with Roshan as a partner,” he adds.

For high data availability and business continuity, EMC SRDF (Symmetrix Remote Data Facility) will enable the company to send any amount of stored data to anywhere in the world at any time. The EMC TimeFinder will be used for local replication and with EMC Open Replicator for Symmetrix, Roshan can remotely re-deploy storage for recovery site vaulting, high-speed data migrations and high-frequency policy-based updates to backup sites, without disrupting online applications.

In a more stable country, according to Amin, Roshan would typically have started with just the production side and tackled the disaster recovery aspect of the deployment later. Roshan, however, insisted the whole implementation should be done at once. Amin is quick to point out that, “Roshan did not go into this project because of any political situation in Afghanistan — that is not why it needed to have disaster recovery plans. The telco wanted to offer quality service to its customers. Now there are two systems in place — production and disaster recovery, giving Roshan access to subscriber and billing information on its CRM, enabling it to provide a quality service to its customers,” states Amin. ||**|||~|AFGB---PHOTO-3---Mohammed-A.jpg|~|Amin: Roshan did not go into this project because any political situation in Afghanistan — that is not why they needed disaster recovery. The company wanted a better service for its.|~|Indeed, the optimised storage resources are providing the necessary resources to meet Roshan’s high service-level requirements. The operator now has the constant information access crucial to any growing enterprise, and is benefiting from advanced availability and data integrity features such as full redundancy, proactive monitoring, and error detection and correction.

The sophisticated technology means Roshan can ensure its customer care centre operates on up-to-date information, giving the operator more transparent access to customer data, enabling it to provide better customers care. “This has complimented our systems and given us a huge competitive advantage. In Afghanistan, there will be five telecoms operators by January next year, and for Roshan the timing of this implementation has been strategic. We now have a tool that will help us to differentiate ourselves competitively in the market for the next few years,” enthuses Khoja.

The non-disruptive upgrades, operations and online reconfigurations have eliminated the risks of planned and unplanned disruptions, reducing the total cost of ownership (TCO) for Roshan. The telco is confident about the 24/7 service and support available from EMC and its partners. It also believes the industry-proven architecture and robust software will provide a comprehensive business continuity protection, safeguarding the business-critical information it needs in order to meet the needs of the growing number of subscribers across the country.

“The demand for communications services has been a key contributing factor to the phenomenal growth that Afghanistan has experienced in recent months [and] the GSM sector in Afghanistan is poised for rapid expansion. It is encouraging to see Roshan take a leadership role through its strategic approach to information protection and management, investing in EMC information management and protection systems to ensure that all customer data is retained should there be an outage,” says Eric Chapman, the operator’s chief technology officer.

To ensure the systems continue to be able to support Roshan’s expanding business into the future, they are built on direct matrix architecture to deliver the highest possible I/O throughput. The architecture is flexible enough for Roshan to scale up as needed, customising the configurations to meet the precise needs of its environment to ensure the system keeps pace with the expanding information volumes.

As the array capacity, connectivity and performance are designed to be scaled smoothly over time, Roshan will get continuously high performance regardless of its application load, retaining the simplicity of the system through consistently consolidated management practices. “The good thing about this system is that we were thinking about future growth. We will be able to build a much larger infrastructure on top of what we have now, protecting our investment. This is an easily scalable solution and it will grow with us,” says Khoja.

In any industry, customer satisfaction and the personal touch goes a long way, and in Afghanistan’s competitive telecoms market the ability to out-perform competitors is the key differentiator that will deliver Roshan’s continued growth. The company is keen to become increasingly customer-centric and will use the new system to launch new services. According to Khoja, Roshan will launch new products and services like post-paid and update its customer relationship management (CRM) systems.

“We will be able to identify our most important customers and reward them appropriately. We will also be looking to launch several customer loyalty schemes.” In the longer term, the operator also plans to build added redundancy by replicating the storage system at a remote location. “The EMC system already provides a great deal of back-up, but we also plan to replicate this at a remote location, so that if something happened to this building the fully redundant system would be in another part of the country and would remain unharmed. We can not afford to lose our data,” he adds. ||**|||~||~||~|Although in more developed countries mobile technology is something of a luxury, for the people and businesses of Afghanistan telecommunications is part of the vital fabric of life, proving to be an asset and a tool in the country’s reconstruction. As Roshan continues to address needs in this fundamental area of Afghanistan’s infrastructure, communications is just one of the ways in which the operator is seeking to help jump-start the country’s economic development.

Roshan's involvement in the telecommunications sector complements and strengthens various development initiatives that have been launched by the Aga Khan Development Network in 2003, ranging from the expansion of rural development and the rehabilitation of infrastructure, to micro-finance, upgrading educational and healthcare capacity and contributing to the revitalisation of cultural spaces of historic importance with a view to improving urban development.

Roshan is a powerful example of how technology can help spur development in the most difficult of terrain and, as Khoja concludes, “By working with experienced partners to bring services to an economy in the early thrust of reconstruction, we hope to be able to “leap-frog” older technologies and quickly contribute towards increased efficiencies across a broad spectrum of activity nationally and region-wide.”

Roshan has been praised for navigating religious, ethnic and cultural issues to establish its brand and significantly grow the Afghan communications market. The Aga Khan Development Network, which controls 51% of the equity in Roshan, is part of an international consortium that owns Roshan and has been supporting humanitarian assistance and rehabilitation in Afghanistan since 1996, working for the common good of all citizens, regardless of their gender, origin or religion. Its programmes in Afghanistan come under a comprehensive development agreement signed by the company and President Hamid Karzai. Along with the other two consortium members, Monaco Telecom International (MTI) and US-based MCT Corporation, Roshan brings international expertise to Afghanistan.

As Afghanistan’s leading GSM wireless services provider, the organisation is one of the largest private employers in the country, directly employing over 470 people, 25% of whom are women. In addition, Roshan provides indirect employment to more than 5,000 people who work as dealers, distributors, contractors and suppliers. As part of its campaign to provide a high level of service, and in line with the operator’s desire to continue to play a leading role in Afghanistan’s redevelopment, in May 2005 Roshan launched two short message service (SMS) facilities.

For the first time, in addition to being able to send SMS domestically, Roshan customers can now send SMS internationally and participate in interactive SMS voting in conjunction with Afghanistan’s leading private radio and television station. SMS usage in Afghanistan is expected to grow by several hundred percent as users become aware of the SMS products available and become more adept with the technology.

“Communications and the needs of customers are changing rapidly in Afghanistan. Customers are becoming more sophisticated and are looking at value added services like SMS that are well developed in mature markets. Roshan has always been at the forefront of the most innovative services to all Afghans,” explains Altaf Ladak, chief marketing officer for Roshan.

As a pioneer in cellular operations in Afghanistan, Roshan’s subscriber base is now rapidly expanding. This, combined with the planned entry of two new operators that will enter the market in January 2005, means the operator will be under pressure to unveil more value-added features for its customers in the coming months. ||**||

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