At the Heart of Development


For the ADB’s technology chief, yet another paradigm is about to shift

Early in his ADB career, Principal Director Seethapathy Chander, witnessed the need to shift old thinking in driving regional development. Overseeing a hydropower project in the Laotian countryside, his team followed established practices of building community schools in the area. “The problem was, there was little or no incentive for teachers,” he says. “They would have much rather gone to Vientiane or Bangkok.” They soon found themselves facing empty schools.

He attributes the lesson to the timeless fact that “you can’t change human nature.” Essentially, people will do things that are only worth their while. The question wasn’t how many new schools to build, but how to deliver quality education.

Mr. Chander is again witnessing new shifts, one being in hydrocarbon-based energy. He points to the fact that the old model for industrialization uses fossil fuels to generate 8 to 9 thousand kwh per year per person. The world simply cannot take this consumption-led development in energy any longer.

And there is a need for the shift to carry on in a country that has traditionally relied on diesel generation, especially in the provinces. Mr. Chander shares that the cost of distributing diesel alone (shipping and storage) is worth more than the cost to buy the fuel itself. “Typically, the cost of diesel based generation in the rural areas is 35-40 US cents per kwh generated.”

He perceives good signs of change. The present administration “has the will” for it, providing a framework for local manufacturers of renewable technology. Broadband and ICT development are also taking off with real momentum. But they all still hinge on human nature: renewable energy must be worthwhile commercially as well as morally. And this depends largely on partnerships and relationships.

Today, as Principal Director of the Office of Information Systems and Technology he talks about the ADB, the importance of disaster recovery planning, and the next shifts in maintaining connectivity across the Asian region.

Q: Mr. Chander, ADB is famous for its development work in many nations all over the Asian continent. Obviously, in order to continue your work you need to keep all your people interconnected to communicate and collaborate. Please tell us more about how you manage this.

A: As you know, ADB’s mandate is to help developing nations rid themselves of poverty. Connectivity and delivery of information to communities in those countries is a big challenge. Some countries have advanced in certain standards for telecommunications connectivity while others lag behind. This is where partnerships play a key role. For example, in our wide area network project connecting ADB to its 30 field offices in the region, we worked closely with PLDT on the MPLS (Multi-Protocol Label Switching) connectivity.

Two years ago, we approached the major global carriers, including PLDT with an RFI (Request for Information) for our new Global Wide Area Network strategy including the MPLS Vertical. While the then-existing wide area infrastructure had met the IT communication needs for some time, emerging business requirements demanded faster, larger bandwidth, strong Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and end-to-end QoS (Quality of Service). These are the core strengths of PLDT’s value.

With the help of its international partner, Cable & Wireless, PLDT won the project, outfitting 15 MPLS sites. This was no small feat, you understand – ADB has operations in countries ranging from the United States and Germany to Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Along with its partners PLDT’s coverage meant that it could ably meet our extensive requirements, providing connectivity to even the most remote sites.

Global companies prefer MPLS nowadays. For one thing, MPLS boasts very robust QoS protocols, allowing us to allocate specific percentages of our single connection to various applications – giving us the power to ensure that the applications that are most critical to our operations are the ones that are prioritized.

MPLS is also a meshed network, which employs several cable networks for resiliency and features any-to-any connectivity, so that we’re better protected against sudden outages.

We’ve even added 2 more MPLS sites in India just this year where our software development is taking place because we’ve been pleased with the performance of PLDT’s MPLS. While there are 15 other sites still on VSAT, the plan is to migrate them onto the MPLS networks in the short to medium term.

Q: Could you tell us more about why you’ve chosen to go with PLDT and MPLS?

A: Communication is obviously critical to our operations – availabilities and latencies are make-or-break issues. Latency, usually measured in milliseconds, is the delay in any data connectivity. If we transmit data from our office in the US to our headquarters here in Manila, normally the average latency is 200 milliseconds. It could be higher or it could be lower. For example, if you are running voice apps with high latency, the quality of the call is compromised. You hear unmistakable echoes and reverberations. And when data files are being transmitted with high latency, downloads or uploads will similarly fail, or time out.

So it’s very important for us to have a low-latency network connection, and PLDT ALPHA Enterprise delivers this through an industry-standard Service Level Agreement which they’ve scrupulously kept. I believethis is due to the resiliency and robustness of their network.

Q: What other telecom services do you use?

A: PLDT ALPHA Enterprise and SMART are also our partners in providing mobile communications to our people in the field. Many of our employees travel extensively, and to that end PLDT ALPHA has worked out a package for us based on our specific usage patterns. We make considerable use of roaming data services, and here we again chose PLDT ALPHA because of their wide-ranging list of partner telcos from all over the world. This is a critical issue for an international organization such as ADB. Can you imagine if we were to sort out our data usage and billings for each of the countries we travel? It will be a nightmare trying to assess costs and usage per provider, per country.

We also rely heavily on PLDT ALPHA Enterprise for our fixed-line voice services.

Q: Asia, and more specifically the Philippines, experiences natural disasters fairly regularly – such as typhoons, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes. What has ADB done to address disaster recovery planning?

A: We have an in-country and an out-country ADB site where we can bring up our systems in a matter of hours in the event of disasters. We take our disaster drills seriously by constantly improving our procedures together with our end users who own those systems. Again this is another area where technology partnerships play a key role. We have to rely on external partners, like PLDT and tech companies they ally with, for example IBM, to bring up our system on the out-country site, we are constantly reviewing other options for disaster recovery. We have a disaster recovery site in Clark where we back up all our data. Now this is useful only if we can keep our data up-to-date, and also if we can easily access the data when we do need it. This is where PLDT comes in, with a high-bandwidth metro-Ethernet line that connects our main office to the disaster recovery site.

Q: Mr. Chander, from what you’ve said so far, ADB already has quite the formidable array of communications technology. But how do you go about supporting existing technologies while being on the lookout for new ones and transitioning them?

A: Just like many organizations, we face the same challenges of constantly improving our systems and how we share information. And so it is important to maintain close relationships with technology partners and providers.

We’re always interested in better delivery mechanisms, so if our providers have developed new technology to that end, we want to know about it. However, moving forward without fully understanding the intricacies of the latest technology is a risky venture. We need to work closely with our platform providers, for example IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, Cisco, HP, and EMC, to ensure that advances in their technologies and version improvements are understood by our technical teams long before we begin transitioning to new technologies.

Q: ADB recently held their 45th Annual Meeting of its Board of Governors in Manila. Could you tell us more about it? How did PLDT ALPHA Enterprise help with the event?

A: ADB’s meeting in Manila from May 2-5, 2012 gathered a record number of more than 4,000 registered delegates including finance ministers and other key policymakers, business leaders, and academics. The key issues at this year’s meeting included what Asia must do to adapt to the global economic downturn, build resilience in urban centers, promote green growth, ensure regional food security, and grow trade between Asia and Latin America.

ADB recognizes that the region has seen steady growth and is leading global recovery, but must update its infrastructure in order to establish a “new normal” of prolonged economic restructuring in advanced economies, and remove obstacles to sustained and equitable growth in developing Asia.

IT was a big part of this event, not only as a topic on the table, but also in the run-up to the event. PLDT was tasked with providing PICC with a PBX solution and a 40Mbps Premium Internet Service in the month preceding the Annual Meeting, which was used heavily within PICC offices in order to coordinate and organize the event.

Q: As the Annual Meeting was looking to the future, could you talk about where you see ADB’s upcoming IT plans?

A: PLDT ALPHA Enterprise’s convergence with ePLDT means that now they have the ability to offer managed ICT space – end-to-end solutions complete from telco services to ICT peripherals. The PLDT group has also expressed interest in using its network for addressing social development challenges. We hope to leverage our partnership in delivering e-Health and e-Education programs to remote communities in the Philippines and overseas. This would be a possible solution to the problems of the kind we faced in Laos 15 years ago – and failed to resolve satisfactorily.

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