eGovernance in India

Improving eGovernance in INDIA

[eGovINDIA] Open source news: Technical opinion from ELCOT to TN Medical department on Health System Project

Posted by egovindia on November 10, 2007

Dear members,
Health department of Govt. of Tamil Nadu has been implementing a huge World Bank aided e-governance project covering almost all the hospitals of Tamil Nadu.
The MD, ELCOT was on the Technical/tender committee for selection of the vendor. After an elaborate process, TCS was chosen as the best qualified partner. But TCS lacks OSS experience. Those who had OSS experience did not qualify to become the best bidder.
Now the implementing agency and TCS agreed that OSS is the best option not only in terms of cost but also in terms of security and overall TCO.
ELCOT gave its technical opinion on various issues on the 8th September 2007. I am attaching the same for your information.

Apologies for the lengthy write up.

Regards

Umashankar

D.O. Letter No. ELCOT/MD/668/ 2007-08 Dated 08th September 2007

Dear Thiru Davidar,

Sub: Technological options for Hospital Management System – Our remarks furnished – Regarding.

Ref: Your D.O. Letter No. 3481/A3/HMIS/ HSP/2007 dated 31.08.2007

——-

We have carefully gone through the two technological options proposed by you and we have carefully noted your apprehensions with regard to the use of Open Source Technology in mission critical application. In the following write up we have made an attempt to provide answers to your queries and apprehensions. Apologies for using a few typical IT technical terms in the write up.

In both the options you have mentioned about Windows 2003 server alone as the server platform. The deployment of servers world over is in the order of 85% under Linux / Unix / Solaris Technology and only 15% under Windows platform. No one deploys Windows operating system for a mission critical or enterprise wide application. For the Health system, we are talking about an enterprise wide application if not a mission critical application. In the entire IT industry, people trust the Unix, Solaris and Linux Systems for mission critical and enterprise wide applications. The 15% server coverage in the world is largely deployed for use of the SMEs and definitely they are not deployed to run mission critical applications. Windows 2003 itself is meant for SMEs and not for enterprise applications. Hence choice of Windows 2003 server for the deployment is to be totally ruled out.

I am enclosing herewith the press clipping (Deccan Chronicle 06.09.2007) showing that the UK Government websites are being routinely hacked by Chinese groups in an organised manner . Such hacking is not possible if the servers are run using Linux/Unix/Solaris/ Mainframe environment. ELCOT’s website and all its application servers (totally 25) are running under Linux environment with just a PIV Linux box acting as firewall. ELCOT’s mini data centre had been certified as hacker proof after carrying out hacker testing. ELCOT is willing to demonstrate how a Linux server is more secure as compared to any other server, without using any external firewall box, third party software etc. The security system in Linux/Unix comes as a default. That means, the user need not necessarily possess any technical knowhow or deploy a person of technical knowhow to configure the security system. The cost saving could run into crores of rupees under such a safe environment. In the circumstances, the best possibility of protecting the Government’s interests is to adopt only the Linux /Unix/Solaris or the Zee operating system of the IBM main frame server.

With regard to the database, you have raised a question whether PostgresSQL or mysql can handle the load. (20-30 lakh transactions per day). Our recommendation for database is PostgreSQL under Linux / Main Frame Server environment. PostgreSQL is an enterprise wide database which can handle database of 15 Terra bytes and above. PostgreSQL is equated to Oracle enterprise database. Hence it can suit an application such as the HMI. Its performance is far superior as compared to MS SQL server. PostgreSQL provides not only enterprise wide database support but also provides PGADMIN III front end software free of cost. Pgadmin III is a browser based database administration tool that provides a web based front end to administer PostgreSQL database. The hassles associated with client installation of the database does not arise in the case of PostgreSQL whereas it is mandatory for client software installation in the case of Oracle, Ms-SQL database etc. PostgreSQL database as well as its future upgrades are available absolutely free. The undersigned had evaluated the PostgreSQL database versus MS SQL database and found out that the PostgreSQL database accepts binary data without any limitation. A test case was undertaken to load a 100 MB binary file (such as video, executable file etc) into the database. PostgreSQL accepted the binary file in one shot without seeking extra coding work. The same task was undertaken in MS SQL also. MS-SQL server was handicapped in accepting such a large binary file. The developer had to do an R & D before understanding the drawback associated with MS-SQL database with regard to the binary database intake. The developer had to get over this issue by doing a trial and error coding. First he split the 100 MB binary file into 50 units and then fed into the MS SQL database. The database accepted this. But before doing this, he tried to split the file into 10 units and then 5 units but the database refused to accept the 5 and 10 MB parts due to the binary limitation. Only when he split it into 2 MB pieces, the database accepted. Apparently such a backward technology database has overheads to the system as it requires first splitting of a binary file and then while reading the file, the system has to assemble the split files into one. This would retard the performance of the application software as well as the server. HMI has lot of binary records in the form of medical digital X rays, scan videos, pictures, etc. Hence Ms-sql server is definitely not suitable for HMI use for the above reason and a host of other reasons, including cost.

When it comes to costing, an equivalent enterprise MS SQL server database costs between Rs. 7-10 lakhs on each processor. That means for every two processor server one has to spend Rs.14-20 lakhs. An equivalent Oracle database costs Rs.24 lakhs per dual processor server. One of the overriding factors in implementation is the cost factor. PostgreSQL comes absolutely free. For a 300 server network, PostgreSQL saves as much as Rs.42 crores. Instead of spending such a huge sum on second level database, the department can invest in a high end server such as the IBM main frame server and run the Mainframe server under Linux/PostgreSQL environment. The cost of two high end enterprise class Mainframe servers is estimated at Rs.6 crores only, including 5 year maintenance cost. In this backdrop, the department needs to make an objective evaluation as to whether it should go for such a high cost database when a better database is available absolutely free. ELCOT is in the process of procuring two enterprise class main frame servers for which ELCOT has identified Suse Linux Operating System running on Mozilla Firefox coupled with PostgreSQL as the database. So, the department would have a pilot implementation to bank upon before making the final decision.

A question may be raised on the support available for PostgreSQL database. It it is the experience of this author that MS-SQL or Oracle does not provide any support unless annual support agreement at a cost of 20-40% of the cost of the database / per year is entered into. With such annual support cost, one can achieve ten times of technical support under PostgreSQL. It is noteworthy to mention that anyone who has experience in administering Oracle/MS-SQL server/DB2 can handle the PostgreSQL database. The undersigned has been watching and monitoring the activities of over 36 technical professionals in ELCOT who have been handling PostgreSQL database in the process of developing e-governance software for ELCOT. ELCOT’s non technical officials also have been using the database through PGADMINIII for viewing the database alone. Moreover, paid annual maintenance support can be obtained from the authors of PostgreSQL by registering with postgresql.org. In a nutshell, there is plenty of support available for PostgreSQL database including large technical manpower availability in Chennai/TamilNadu itself and also online support from the authors of the database. The costing for such maintenance is less than a tenth of the cost one has to pay for supporting other proprietary databases.

Technically speaking, the database of the HMI need not be hosted on a single server because each district hospital is an independent unit. Except the master databases and control tables, all other transaction and application software components can be separated and hosted on individual servers either centrally or at different locations. ELCOT already had implemented such a technology for the online family card administration system. In such a scenario, the PostgreSQL database itself would be considered a heavy weight database. It would be sufficient to deploy mysql database itself under such environments. Deploying Ms-sqlserver or Oracle would be an overkill at a very high cost factor.

Your question that whether mission critical application can run on Open Source Technology, it can be understood by making a visit to ELCOT. ELCOT had already hosted its Family Card Application online. The application is currently being accessed from anywhere in the State using TN State Wide Area Network backbone. As of now, the system has not gone down even by a minute. The Government employees as well as the contractors access the database using the web based application software all over the State. ELCOT is producing an average of 10,300 family cards per day using the system and each family card application passes through the online workflow process before reaching the final printing stage. ELCOT has no difficulty in running the system. It is noteworthy that the database consists of text and binary content (photos) measuring over 1 Terra byte. Hence, running a mission critical application using an open source database such as PostgreSQL is easy and organised. ELCOT has the necessary technical manpower and experience to provide a complete range of support starting from configuring the system, application software development, deployment and support.

You have questioned the performance related issues in the deployment of Open Source Technology. The Linux Operating System as well as the Open Source databases that run on Linux Operating System have no performance issues at all. For the envisaged magnitude of the hospital management system, open source software offers a one-to-one performance matching system. There is no question of lack of performance or poor performance from the Open Source System. In fact, the open source systems are free from viruses and security issues and hence the performance degradation due to anti virus software and security management software packages is not suffered by the OSS based systems.

Suitable Software development and deployment platform: The Technology proposed by TCS is Dot Net and Ms-sqlserver. This is like locking the Department to a single vendor as both these packages make it impossible to migrate to any other platform in future. Neither Dot Net nor Ms-sql server runs on other platforms. So, the Government would be forced to remain within the bind of the supplier, viz., Microsoft. Dot Net technology is not only proprietary but also a recent one. It comes with its own overheads and bugs, whereas the tested technology that offers enterprise level computing support world over is the Java Technology. Dot Net has been in the field only for the past four years, whereas Java Technology has been in the field of Information Technology for the past thirty years. J2EE/JAVA technology offers fool-proof security and absolute scalability. Large enterprises trust ONLY Java technology. Java Technology is an open technology. Dot Net is liable for security threats and vulnerability which are the inherent drawbacks of the Windows Operating system. Java Technology is recently advanced itself to new heights by the introduction of AJAX technology (http://www.adaptive path.com/ publications/ essays/archives/ 000385.php). AJAX technology offers a client-server like ability to the browser based application software. In a typical browser based application, the queries go back and forth the remote server for every move/call, thus reloading the web page for every move of the user. But AJAX had revolutionized the web field by doing away with the page reloading (which is time consuming and some times irritating) drawback. Things happen as and when the user moves to the next area of operation on the web page with the user never realising that he/she has been using a browser based application where the server is located probably thousands of miles away. This is precisely the advantage of a client server application which usually has a local server. With the advantage of the look and feel of the client-server system, the AJAX has in fact high jacked the entire application software field. Even proprietary software vendors had to run for integration of AJAX in their respective systems. Java comes with AJAX by default. It is AJAX today. Tomorrow some other technology would be introduced and the same would be available for free download from Java developers. No proprietary software vendor such as Microsoft would offer such a future technology free like this. That means the Government would struck with an outdated and non dynamic technology at any point of time.

It is noteworthy that TCS which has never implemented an application software under Java Technology has been attempting to impose a highly proprietary and backward technology on Government by suggesting Dot Net technology. In our opinion, Dot Net technology should not be used for the above mentioned reasons and also for the reasons of higher cost on each server in addition to the loose security systems which are built into the MS-Windows environment itself.

Hence we recommend the use of Java/J2EE technology with Struts framework for the software development environment. For deployment of the software, the department may consider an open source alternative such as JBOSS.

Currently, the entire open source community has been concentrating on Jboss server deployment software. The second alternative could be Apache Tomcat. World’s 85% of the servers run on Apache Tomcat or JBOSS server environment. These are available free which includes free upgrades.

Support issues Vs. Open Source software (OSS) technology: Immediate and online support is available for all the Open Source software products. The knowledge repository for any software under OSS is mind boggling. Within minutes one can find a solution to a technical issue, absolutely online. Such a powerful support system is not available for any proprietary technology as the proprietary technology holders have been keeping the knowledge sharing at bay in order to maximise their profits. As OSS is owned by the community, the knowledge sharing on technology, including bugs and the bug fixes is absolute. ELCOT has already implemented OSS in the Family Card Printing process, anywhere Registration software, Commercial Tax Dealer Registration and Return Filing software, Old Age Pension Scheme Administration software, Online Farmers Card issue software, Online Identity Card for Government employees and so on. OSS technology is a simple yet professional technology. Every student who graduates from Engineering colleges under computer science/IT/ECE learns this technology. Hence, the question of non-availability of technical manpower to drive and use the Java Technology does not arise.

Hence, our recommendation is that Hospital Management System should be built only on Java Technology alone.

Jasper Report: Jasper Report is a powerful open source report building software available for free download and use. Jasper Report is the best report writing software available internationally and it is available free of cost. Jasper Report is not only free for downloading but its upgrades are also available free. In a nutshell, Jasper Report enables the user to develop reports using an highly attractive Graphical User Interface (GUI). It almost resembles the popular Crystal Report Software but has more advanced features than the Crystal Report Software. Crystal Report allows preparation of reports only using the client server environment. That means, the user has to install necessary software executable on the client system to run the report, whereas, the Jasper Report does not require any such installation on the client system. It runs across the web and the user gets the report right on his/her desktop irrespective of the size of the document and the operating system in use. The report is rendered in Adobe pdf format which is cross platform format. The user can save such document on his/her desktop system. Apparently, TCS is unaware of this powerful open source tool and has not provided appropriate technical advice to the department in this regard. Our technical advise in this regard is that the Hospital Management System should be built on Java technology supported by Jasper Report for writing of reports offering fixed page width reports. In a typical hospital administration system, one requires to generate and print day to day billing, out patient slips, prescription slips, hospital case sheet and so on. This requires fixed page width printing facility. The page width should not over flow. Jasper Report offers the fixed page width format as default and hence our recommendation is that the Hospital Management System should be built with Jasper Report for Linux as the default report building system.

To sum up, our recommendations are as follows:

  1. Hospital Management System should be built on J2EE architecture with Struts framework which offers N-Tier architecture. This technology allows the user to set up any number of application servers, database servers and security servers and the user will never know the number of systems driving the software. This also enables to deploy heterogeneous operating system servers across the State. J2EE technology is a cross platform technology, meaning that the application software developed under J2EE can be deployed from one operating system to another. According to latest assessment report from Gartner, a leading international consultant that over 80% of the new application software that are being build by the year 2009 would be only on platform independent technology (read – J2EE/Php) and by the year 2017, the world would be free from proprietary (read – Microsoft) technology in the area of operating system. (Copy of the ppt slide enclosed). When the world at large is moving towards cross platform and more open technologies, Tamil Nadu should not opt for a backward looking, costed and proprietary technology such as Dot Net.

     

  2. Already the Government have approved 100% open source technology for a typical mission critical application such as Co-operative Banking operations. This application software has been entrusted to Onward software Services Limited (finalised through open tender) at a cost of Rs.1.6 crores. Once developed, this application software would be implemented from a data centre having a high end server such as Mainframe server or a series of centralised servers, connected to TNSWAN, offering absolutely mission critical services such as banking and commonly shared ATM services.

     

  3. J2EE also enables deployment of low end servers with high end performance as the total load would be shared by a series of servers and not one single server. This is only optional but the same makes the technology attractive for Government.

     

  4. The database should be PostgreSQL for Linux (latest build).

  5. Jasper Report running on linux OS should be the report writing software for building all types of reports.

     

  6. The system should be run on Linux/UNIX/Solaris or the Mainframe OS (Zee OS)

  7. If linux OS is chosen, then one of the two popular linux server versions viz., Redhat or Suse can be deployed.

     

  8. Main frame OS is an option if Mainframe servers are deployed.

  9. Default browser should be Mozilla FireFox. The system should also be capable of running on Internet Explorer and all standard browsers.

     

ELCOT has already developed, deployed and tested high end application software in all the above technology (except Mainframe technology). ELCOT is willing to showcase the entire technology to the Medical department and/or TCS. ELCOT is willing to provide necessary technical guidance in this regard.

Kindly feel free to call us for any assistance in this regard. We suggest that a meeting may be convened to finalise the technology and any decision on the technology should be not just based on the convenience of TCS or their existing software code but based on security, scalability, interoperability, high availability and cost factor in the short run or in the long run.

Yours Sincerely,

 

(C. UMASHANKAR)

Encl: As above.

To

Thiru P.W.C. Davidar, I.A.S.,

Special Secretary to Government,

Department of Health & Family Welfare &

Project Director, Tamil Nadu Health Systems Project,

7th Floor, DMS Building,

Chennai – 600 006.

Copy to :

Thiru A. Mohan,

Deputy Director General,

National Informatics Centre (NIC),

Rajaji Bhavan, Besant Nagar,

Chennai – 600 090

 

C.Umashankar IAS., (TamilNadu Cadre)
e-governance expert.
& Managing Director, Electronics Corporation of TamilNadu Limited(ELCOT)
(A Government of TamilNadu Undertaking)Co-Moderator:
http://groups. yahoo.com/ group/eGovINDIA
Mankind deserves open standards and open source software. Only the chosen ones get its taste. Others just hear the taste.

Chennai:
Ph: 91-44-42054443

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