Gradient Networks has developed Mobile Automatic Recharge System (MARS), a PC based system that enables recharge outlets to extend their services through remote agents. By using Windows Azure to support its application, the company is helping customers save up to 35 percent in infrastructure and management costs. Furthermore, it has eased installation while gaining vast scalability and enhanced performance.
Gradient Networks, established in 2003, has been involved in the design and manufacturing of electronic equipment and software, catering to the Telecom and Business Automation domains. With a strong R&D set-up, the company continues to innovate and bring exciting products that are technically superior, feature-rich, and competitively priced.
The company was installing its Recharge application comprising hardware and software in distributor premises. SMS is the primary mode to recharge mobile services. However, the more progressive outlets have invested in tablets and smartphones that wanted an online application to recharge mobiles. The company was also looking at extending the recharge services to small business outlets such as medical shops, kirana stores (small, proprietor owned stores), etc. Venkatesh, Head Sales and Support, Gradient Networks says, “Normally, recharge outlets have mobile phones for each operator, with a balance ranging from INR 5,000 to 50,000 in each of these phones. This is adequate for a standalone business that primarily focuses on recharging. However, it does not work for segments that are not into recharging as a primary business.”
The accounting module, which maintains all the balances, was also completely offline. Gradient Networks realized that prepaid mobile outlets in India needed to e-charge SIMs or General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) handsets quickly for multiple service providers to minimize loss of revenue and customers.
By using the Windows Azure platform Gradient Networks created the Mobile Automatic Recharge System (MARS). Windows Azure, the Microsoft cloud services development, hosting, and management environment, was an ideal way to meet all its needs. The company was attracted by the scalability of the pay-as-you-go solution, which is perfect to support unpredictable levels of growth.
MARS is a PC based system that enables recharge outlets to extend their services through remote agents, apart from recharging for walk-in customers. Implementing MARS is simple. The remote agents registered with the system can send recharge requests (the customer’s mobile number and the amount) to MARS through a simple SMS. The system checks the available balance of the retailer, does the recharge automatically, and sends a confirmation SMS to the remote agent with the latest balance and transaction ID.
The application connects to a central server. It links to SQL Azure, the database component of the Windows Azure platform. “Basically it holds all our data,” says Prasanna, Head Product Development, Gradient Networks. “Every recharge request that is placed from the website hosted by us is tracked in the SQL database. It is also used for generating reports, including recharge reports, payment reports and balance reports.”
Today, Gradient Networks has 250 databases, one for each distributor. These are separate instances of Windows Azure. Login credentials identify each distributor . However, the web role (the user interface) is the same for all. Most of the distributors go for 1 GB database, because that helps them hold around 15 days of data.
“We charge the customer an annual fee to host the database, the instance of the application and the instance of the web role,” says Balakrishnan, President, Gradient Networks. “For every 25 distributors we create an instance and so the web role cost gets shared between them.”
Balakrishnan concludes, “The biggest boon for the distributors is that each maintains a single balance and a single mobile. They do not have to track 20 different balances with different vendors. The application is highly configurable and provides a host of powerful features to extend reach, grow the recharging business, and manage it better.”
Gradient Networks is increasing application performance by using the Windows Azure platform. It is also maintaining a high level of security provided through its on-premises offering.
Improves Performance and Security
Gradient Networks provides quality service to its users. SMS requests are handled exceptionally well by MARS. This helps in penetration with customers who cannot afford and are not comfortable with the web. “By using Windows Azure, we deliver high availability 24×7,” says Balakrishnan. “The Microsoft brand gives the confidence that the application is secure. And, we get a quick response from Microsoft when we need help with a technical problem.”
Offers Easier Installation
Compared to a traditional on-premises hosting model, Windows Azure provides significant infrastructure savings. “Customers don’t have the knowledge or the bandwidth to develop applications like ours,” says Ahmed Hussain, Senior Support Engineer, Gradient Networks. “Whenever a customer opts for MARS, we can get him/her online in a couple of hours, with a few customizations like company name and image change. All other formats remain the same.”
Gradient Networks does not need to add and configure physical servers to increase server capacity. Peak loads are quick and easy to manage. “Right now, across all our 1,000 distributers, recharge value worth INR 15 crore is transacted every day,” says Venkatesh. “With approximately 75,000 transactions daily, the biggest issue for us was to manage the peak loads between 5 and 8 pm, when around 40─50 percent recharges take place. With Windows Azure, we have the scalability to adjust server capacity and handle 30,000 transactions that happen during peak hours.”
Windows Azure is more cost-effective than dedicated servers are. “We have reduced the infrastructure and management costs for our customers by up to 35 percent,” says Balakrishnan. “Plus, we are also spending less time and resources administering and managing the infrastructure.”
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