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Issue of March 2003 
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Cover Story: Linux in the enterprise
Banking on Linux

IDBI Bank has a nationwide network of branches and ATMs spread over 68 cities. It chose Linux to run its core banking applications to save substantially in software licenses and hardware costs. With Linux it has the ability to modify the source code to suit organizational needs. by Minu Sirsalewala

IDBI Bank has a vast network that covers more than 91 branches and 258 ATMs spread over 68 cities nationwide. And in order to support the magnanimous volume of daily transactions the bank has created a robust and
reliable IT infrastructure comprising dedicated hardware and software elements.

In a nutshell

The company
IDBI Bank has 91 branches and 258 ATMs spread over 68 cities nationwide. In order to support the magnanimous volume of daily transactions the bank has created a robust and reliable IT infrastructure comprising dedicated hardware and software elements.

The need
A secure, reliable OS to run its core banking applications and other essential services.

The solution
Linux as an OS for most of the backend core banking applications and other essential services.

Benefits
Huge savings in terms of software licenses and hardware costs. The ability to script and modify the source code to suit organizational needs.

Linux at the network's core
All the financial and business transactions of the bank are performed by the core banking application software. A minute of downtime or break in service can cost the bank several lakh rupees in lost revenue, and irrevocable damage to reputation. The IS team at IDBI Bank had to be very particular in choosing the server OS platform that would run the applications optimally with zero downtime.

The bank chose Linux as the server platform for its core banking applications and deployed it on the application servers around five years ago. IDBI Bank currently uses products like Red Hat Linux Advanced Version 2.1, Slackware, Red Hat 7.0, and Red Hat 7.2.

The bank also uses Linux as the server platform for applications like:

  • Oracle Financials 11i - which includes general ledger, fixed assets, accounts payable and procurement
  • Oracle HRMS - which includes core HR, recruitment, training and administration, and employee self service
  • The phone banking system (IVR)
  • Mail server
  • Proxy server
  • Jabber - a chat software
  • Intrusion Detection Systems

Other applications run on platforms like Sun Solaris, HP-UX, and Windows NT.

The use of Linux
Neeraj B. Bhai, CTO, IDBI Bank explained, "The core banking applications are the lifeline of the business. And the bank's entire electronic communication depends on the mail server. If the mail server is down, communication
with the outside world will be critically hampered and thus affect business."

The company felt that Linux was the OS platform of choice because it is easy to script and could be customized to its exact requirements. Another important aspect was cost. "Linux being open source enables us to modify and change the source code according to our needs. And it is very cost effective since we can do away with software licenses and hardware cost as compared to other OSs," said Neeraj.

Support
Initially when the bank opted for Linux to run its backend applications, there was very little support available because there was no specific distribution vendor with a support mechanism in India. A few like Red Hat were available but did not provide complete support. "But we had faith in our in-house technical team and decided to brave it. The support aspect is not an issue anymore. With the user community in India growing, and support from industry giants like IBM, Sun, and Oracle increasing, Linux has turned out to be a good option," said Neeraj.

IDBI bank has a heterogeneous environment with various hardware and software solutions. The open source nature of the OS allows the technical team to fix OS bugs immediately. There are many communities contributing to Linux development worldwide, who help users fix vulnerabilities. "One can subscribe to advisories and get information on patches to apply in order to harden the system. It is also protected by the GNU Public License (GPL) whereby one can resell the OS/application with or without modifications. This makes Linux highly affordable
for any organization. It is free, stable, secure, and bundled with a large number of software," said Neeraj.

The bank has an arrangement with Red Hat Professional Consulting for support services. It covers implementation, OS tuning services, consulting, and engineering services through site visits. During site visits, the support team will conduct OS health check audits, create audit and inventory reports of applied patches, and relevent upgrades. Additional OS tuning exercises and detailed OS audit reports are included.

Security and vulnerability
Neeraj claims that the bank has not faced any server platform vulnerability issues at all. "Any OS with a standard configuration has to be hardened and tweaked according to an organization's needs," explained Neeraj. He added, "Security also depends on support provided by the distributor and a company has to sign a formal arrangement with the vendor."

Cost benefit
The application vendors installed most of the Linux-based applications. This ensured that the bank did not incur any additional cost other than the cost of procuring the application. The hardware configuration of the Linux-based servers did not need to be special. This ensured that the cost of hardware for the Linux-based servers was low. The bank was able to save a lot of cost in terms of software licenses and hardware.

Future plans
Neeraj said, "We are totally satisfied with the applications that have been implemented on Linux, and we do not plan to migrate to any other OS. We are also in the process of implementing Oracle Financials for some operations in finance and HRD on a Linux platform.

Minu Sirsalewala can be reached at minus@networkmagazineindia.com

 
     
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