Off The Rails

By Richard Hughes in Uncategorized on March 19, 2012

BroadVision are proud to provide the software which powers the main Indian Railways website, www.irctc.co.in, and we were particularly interested to read a recent, candid interview with Ramesh Kumar Tandon, the managing director of IRCTC.

The capacity issue discussed in this interview is something we are very aware of, as it sometimes results in complaints from people trying to book tickets coming direct to BroadVision via Twitter. We do actively monitor these, and try to reply where appropriate. Maybe it is through one of these replies that you have reached this article. In this article we’d like to add our perspective to what Mr Tandon said.

Readers outside India may not be aware that IRCTC is the biggest eCommerce site in India, recording an average of 400,000 transactions a day. This average traffic is no problem at all for the server infrastructure, but of course, like all web sites, there are peaks when traffic is many times higher than this. In IRCTC’s case, these peaks are very high indeed, particularly in advance of major holidays with up to nearly 1 million users trying to access the site at the same time. And the servers powering the site are not always able to cope with this volume.

It is worth clarifying exactly what services BroadVision provide to IRCTC. We provide the eCommerce software upon which the IRCTC booking application is built, and we provide consulting services to advise on the best way to use this software. We don’t own, or host the servers on which the application runs. The complete infrastructure is owned by IRCTC and they solely determine the deployed capacity of servers.

Some of the messages we get on Twitter are intelligent and constructive; some are funny; some are downright offensive. And yes, those do hurt our feelings a little. Let’s have a look at a selection of the recent messages:

Why doesn’t BroadVision think of moving #irctc to the cloud?

It’s a good idea, but not something under our control. As mentioned above, BroadVision provides the underlying software on which the site is based, but we don’t own, host or operate the servers on which it runs – IRCTC does this.

BroadVision do actually operate significant cloud-based infrastructures across the world to support our Clearvale product. But very specific, customized solutions such as IRCTC’s booking application don’t get the full benefits of cloud computing where many customers share the same infrastructure. So whether in the cloud or not, the capacity problem would remain unless the server infrastructure is expanded.

@BroadVision your irctc website is a real nightmare for the general public in India. It is incompatible with the load it has to bear @8am

Yes, it is the 8am peak that is the problem. It is at this time each day that “taktal” tickets are made available for booking and as everyone wants to be first to book a ticket, we see the number of users increase up to 20 times the normal load with everyone trying to book tickets at exactly 8am. Shortly before big public holidays, the peak gets close to a million simultaneous users, and that’s when we see the most complaints.

Broadvision, the company that maintains the irctc website, claims a 99.8% uptime. I think they’re just bluffing!

Actually, this is true (the uptime, that is, not the bluffing!). The site goes down very, very rarely, but as explained earlier, it simply doesn’t have the capacity to handle the extreme peaks.

Hmm, the guys at BroadVision, IRCTC’s solution provider, are at least nice enough to respond to my complaints!

Yes, we do try to. Although…

IRCTC Sucks! N when its done sucking it sucks even more – May the developers rot in hell and with them you too @BroadVision

Ha! Well, how do you respond to that? Honestly, we do understand this frustration, but hopefully what we’ve said earlier explains why sending our developers to rot in hell really wouldn’t solve the problem. Seriously though, we don’t reply to this sort of message. We’re always willing to discuss the problems people are seeing, but we see little benefit for anyone in getting involved in an argument like this.

So, what’s the solution? “More servers” would appear to be the obvious answer. But that is a decision for IRCTC, and not something BroadVision can control. Rest assured that we have made this recommendation. However, as the traffic outside peak hours is significantly lower, we do understand that IRCTC perhaps find it hard to justify the cost of commissioning additional infrastructure to handle occasional overloads. As Mr Tandon notes, the capacity has already increased significantly, but has been matched by equal rises in demand.

We hope that this helps you understand the cause of the occasional problems. We do understand it is frustrating, and we continue to be available to IRCTC to offer our assistance in resolving the problem.

BroadVision