Expressing confidence that all the targets were achievable, Mr. Nilekani added that he had received mails from professionals all over the world wanting to participate in the project because the "technology has never been tried before." About his own experiences with the project, the former Infosys chairman joked, "It is like another start-up, only with no IPO."

The Unique Identification Authority of India’s project to provide a Unique Identification number (UID) to all Indians is a massive exercise, unequalled elsewhere in the world, according to UIDAI chairman Nandan Nilekani.

At a recent interaction with The Hindu, Mr. Nilekani talked about some technological challenges involved in the project, but stressed that as an IT superpower, India had the wherewithal to implement it successfully.

Volume: Creating and managing a database of 1.2 billion people spread over a huge area will involve immense work. Around five megabytes of data will be required to store the compressed fingerprint images (all 10 fingers) of each individual, meaning the size of the entire database will be at least six petabytes (6,000 terabytes, or 6,000,000 gigabytes), making it among the world’s largest databases.

Speed: Each new entry has to be validated against existing entries to remove the possibility of duplication. Over the next few years, this would mean comparing each new application against, say, one billion entries in the database at a reasonable speed. Also, the UIDAI proposes online authentication through cellphones and using basic technology. While authentication is a simpler process, the proposed time of three to four seconds for the same makes it challenging.

Security: Dealing with sensitive information, it has to include security features that will ward off hackers. The robustness of the system under full operation, with possibly thousands of queries every second, will also have to be factored in.

Biometrics: A Biometrics Committee has been set up to look into the issue of the final set of biometrics used, but Mr. Nilekani has suggested that along with fingerprints, iris scan of the individuals also be stored. While this will increase the size of the database, there will also be problems relating to the equipment required for the iris scan.

Expressing confidence that all the targets were achievable, Mr. Nilekani added that he had received mails from professionals all over the world wanting to participate in the project because the “technology has never been tried before.” About his own experiences with the project, the former Infosys chairman joked, “It is like another start-up, only with no IPO.”