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Network you can bank on

InfineT aims to provide a reliable communication backbone for the banking & finance sector. Hereís how IDRBT, the organization behind INFINET has done it. by Mahesh Rathod

INFINET is a CUG VSAT-based network that has 675 VSATís supporting around 200 locations across India

IDRBT (Institute for Development and Research in Banking Technology) inaugurated INFINET (INdian FINancial NETwork) in June 1999 to provide a reliable communication backbone for the banking and financial sector. INFINET is a CUG (Closed User Group) VSAT-based network that has 675 VSAT's supporting around 200 locations across India. It's for the exclusive use of member banks and financial institutions nationwide.

INFINET being the backbone for the national payment systems soon garnered membership from many banks and financial institutions. This created a need for higher bandwidth speed to support newer users. A new terrestrial network that provides bandwidth up to 34 Mbps was setup by Cisco Systems and CMC Limited. The aim was to enable all inter- and intra-bank transactions at high-speed and in a reliable manner.

The need to network
Since inauguration IDRBT uses VSAT on the backbone and Ethernet on the LAN. "The primary objective of IDRBT was to help its members carry out inter- and intra-bank transactions seamlessly through the electronic medium. We started our first IT implementation in 1998 with an initial investment of around Rs 150 Crore by building the INFINET", said Dr. V.P. Gulati, Director, IDRBT.

INFINET has proved to be very fruitful. Various inter-bank and intra-bank applications like simple messaging, MIS (Management Information Systems), ECS (Electronic Clearing Service), electronic debit, online processing, trade in government securities, centralized funds, anywhere/anytime banking, and inter-branch reconciliation are now carried out using INFINET.

VSAT gear
The INFINET is primarily a TCP/IP based network. A detailed IP-addressing scheme has been devised by IDRBT for all the CUG members. The scheme has to be followed strictly by members when they interact through the communication backbone. The network consists of a central earth station (Hub), which is located at Hyderabad. The Hub consists of an 11 meter antenna and other communications equipment. The network started with one eighth of transponder number 13 on INSAT 2B in June 1999. Later, in July 2000, a full transponder, number 8 was allotted on INSAT 3B.

The network works on TDM/TDMA (Time Division Multiplexing/Time Division Multiple Access) technology. The central earth station is housed in a VSAT control center located in the ground floor of the executive facilities center of the Institute. A DAMA (Demand Assigned Multiple Access) overlay will be soon provided to facilitate high-speed data communications, voice, and video.

More bandwidth
A leased line backbone with multiple 2 Mbps lines and Gigabit Ethernet as a LAN backbone was implemented to meet greater bandwidth needs. "The new terrestrial network links will integrate with the existing VSAT network to complement the total bandwidth. INFINET will now become a blend of both leased line and VSAT network technologies. An important factor is that the terrestrial WAN network will allow easy migration to Ethernet speeds in future", said Gulati.

The NMS (Network Management System) of the leased line network is located at the INFINET hub at Hyderabad. The backup NMS is located at the RBI (Reserve Bank of India) office in Mumbai.

The institute has tied up with Cisco Systems to set up the terrestrial network with the help of 45 Cisco routers. This includes 25 high-end routers, security systems, NMS software, and switches. Cisco's 7500 series routers would form the core of the network, located in important cities, and will interconnect various cities. Cisco's 3600 routers will be deployed at the distribution level to enable bank branches to ride on the core network.

The network design has taken into consideration multiple paths for any location. This ensures that data can traverse the network and reach the destination even if the primary connectivity is down. All the locations have been configured along with the ISDN ports in their respective routers as backup. In an extreme case of all the land-based lines going down, the VSAT links can be used to send data from one location to another.

To defend INFINET from hacking or intrusion, PIX firewalls from Cisco have been deployed in all key locations within the network. And to address the vital issue of security of financial transactions in the electronic environment, the Institute has set up a Center for Security Technology. "This center will play a key role to help evolve security standards, protocols, certification procedures, and solutions to suit Indian financial conditions", said Gulati.

At the end
"The leased line network with VSAT backup will completely revolutionize the way the banking industry has been conducting transactions within themselves. INFINET will also play a major role in the member banks business strategy in future", Gulati promised.

Mahesh Rathod can be reached at rathodmp@hotmail.com

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