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Infrastructure management

The two 'M's of business

UTI Bank had to scale its network infrastructure to match its rapidly growing business without compromising on quality. It decided that the best way to do this would be to focus on the two 'M's—monitoring and maintenance. by Soutiman Das Gupta

Imagine that a transaction worth a million dollars was pending because the network was down as a result of slackness in monitoring and maintenance. It is a loss of a million dollars worth of business for the bank
V K Ramani, President of IT, UTI Bank

Business at UTI Bank was growing rapidly. The company had to add 50 to 60 branches, broaden its retail base of 250,000 customers by 80 percent, and bolster its ATM network by the year-end. To support its growth, the bank's President of IT, V K Ramani decided that his department had to focus upon the quality of its IT systems.

"Now that the physical infrastructure is in place, it's important to offer quality in terms of information availability and scalability. To put quality in place it's important to focus upon the two 'M's—monitoring and maintenance."

In sync with this decision, the bank is focussing upon monitoring and maintenance of its IT systems as a key measure.

Business at the bank

From its inception in 1994, UTI Bank has reached a number of milestones. The company has gone public, introduced Internet banking and e-commerce initiatives, offered cash management services, has 250,000 retail customers, over 330 branches and locations, and 1,250 ATMs.

The bank now aims to increase its retail customer base, as well as the number of its nationwide branches and locations and ATMs in a big way. These initiatives need to be supported by a robust IT infrastructure that is scalable and reliable. At the same time quality has to be maintained.

The two 'M's

Ramani decided to focus on the need to introduce quality in IT systems specifically through the aspects of monitoring and maintenance. Monitoring IT systems ensured that the performance levels of various network services are optimised. It also ensures that there is no extra load or under-utilisation of hardware and software resources.

Maintenance ensures that the upkeep of infrastructure elements such as connectivity, servers, and operating systems happens and downtime is minimised.

"Imagine that a transaction worth a million dollars was pending because the network was down as a result of slackness in monitoring and maintenance. It is a loss of a million dollars worth of business for the bank. So it's a business need, and not only that of IT," explained Ramani.

Pearls of wisdom

V K Ramani has a five-point action strategy for CIOs who aim to increase service quality levels in their IT infrastructure with the help of good monitoring exercises.

1. It is important to understand that the bank is as good as the network that runs it.

2. Keep a strict control on the IT assets that are present in the network. Keep an inventory and updated records in terms of location and deployment.

3. Keep a check on how the network is constructed in terms of IP addresses. Look at the address configuration strategy, whether it is in a manageable form or not, and the need for change. The same addressing system will not work forever. You have to keep monitoring it to ensure effective communication and message flow. You must ideally focus on the addressing system once a year or at least once in 18 months.

4. It is necessary that users should know the importance of the devices in the IT infrastructure and the need for security in terms of access. Deploying a network manager without training users will not give the desired service levels.

5. Most networks today are complex. The connectivity mechanisms should be built in such a way that you can seamlessly switch over from one network access method to another. Whether the switchover is manual or automatic will depend upon the situation.

6. Devices and software will give you information but analysis and decision-making is the CIO's job. A tool will not take action if the internal logic is not built into it. There is a limit to how much you can automate. Beyond that, an intelligent observant CIO will make a difference.

Monitoring for performance

The bank already had an outsourcing relationship with Wipro Infotech since 2001. Ramani decided to complement the monitoring and maintenance efforts of the in-house IT staff with services from Wipro Infotech.

"Our network monitoring operations are driven by the understanding that if you can trust the network you can trust the bank. So the bank is as good as the network," said Ramani.

In the realm of IT infrastructure, monitoring these are the areas that the bank focussed upon with help from the service provider.

Network operations

24x7 monitoring of all leased lines, ISDN and VSATs from the data centre for all nationwide locations. Proactive action at affected locations without reducing business hours.

E-mail

24x7 pending mail queue monitoring for the main hub and SMTP servers of the Lotus Domino set-up at the data centre. Monitoring critical parameters of the Domino servers such as disk space and mail database quotas.

Vendor relationships

Monitoring vendor performance in terms of calls logged, responded to, and resolved.

Asset management

Wipro conducts regular branch visits to UTI Bank locations as a proactive measure. Asset tracking through mechanisms such as intelligent software.

Support for the two 'M's

Here's a list of the hardware, software, and processes used by UTI Bank to support its maintenance and monitoring activities.

Hardware

  • Cisco networking devices
  • Nortel networking devices (voice for call centre)
  • Intel-based servers
  • Sun Solaris servers at select locations

Software

  • Sun Solaris
  • Microsoft Windows
  • Microsoft back office applications
  • Lotus Domino applications
  • Monitoring applications
  • Microsoft SQL servers
  • Symantec anti-virus applications
  • CA Unicenter TNG applications
  • Microsoft NetMeeting (freeware)
  • Arc Serve backup/restore software.

Processes

  • ISO 9001-2000 process framework for managed IT support
  • Wipro Infotech M:Q (Mission:Quality) processes for measuring and improving existing processes such as Process Model for Management Support (PMMS) and site induction for new recruits
  • Change management for network and e-mail deliverables

Maintenance of infrastructure

In the realm of IT infrastructure maintenance these are the areas that the bank focussed on with help from the service provider.

Network operations

Maintenance of leased line and ISDN links at all nationwide locations. Commissioning links and related activities for new proposed locations of UTI Bank and its business partners. Annual maintenance of Cisco routers. Integration of new technologies into existing infrastructure.

E-mail

Maintenance of the entire Lotus Domino infrastructure including servers, address books, and mail databases. Installation and configurations of new servers into the infrastructure. Integration of new technologies into existing infrastructure.

Vendor management

Vendor co-ordination and follow-ups to resolve issues pertaining to the bank's relationship with companies. Creating vendor performance reports.

Server and operating systems management

Maintaining the server infrastructure at the bank. Maintaining operating systems-related activities including security by means of the latest operating systems and anti-virus patches. Backup and restoration services for all business-critical servers.

How the two 'M's helped

A major benefit has been that related services of the bank are now scalable in line with future business requirements—without significant cost implications

"Focus on monitoring and maintenance has helped the organisation achieve better control over its IT infrastructure. The increased control has helped us extract optimal performance levels from various resources," Ramani claimed.

A huge benefit for the business has been that the related services of the bank are scalable in line with business requirements. Any future expansion or reduction in the number of branches can now be carried out without significant cost implications.

The network offers high levels of availability with around 99.85 percent uptime and almost 100 percent responsiveness. Server uptime is around 99.95 percent. These let the bank meet the requirements of its business continuity plans, and users have even gained an additional 114 hours of network availability for banking operations

The recurring cost of maintaining backup links has come down on account of better utilisation and the combined focus on monitoring and maintenance along with service provider help has resulted in significant cost reductions. "We have saved on IT infrastructure costs by around 30 percent and hope to save more in the coming years," said Ramani.

Many of the bank's ATMs are hooked up by VSAT links but Ramani plans to deploy CDMA at a few branches and off-site ATMs. As CDMA doesn't need a satellite dish to be placed on the roof, it cuts real estate costs, not to mention the fact that CDMA bandwidth is cheaper than VSAT connectivity.

"Outsourcing lets UTI Bank sustain and service business critical IT Infrastructure with fewer personnel in its internal IT team," said Tapan Bhat, General Manager, Managed IT Services, Wipro Infotech.

Down the road

In future, the bank wants to continue to focus on monitoring and maintenance activities to provide the desired service quality levels. Ramani also wants to shift more monitoring and maintenance responsibilities to the service provider.

Soutiman Das Gupta can be reached at soutimand@networkmagazineindia.com

 
     
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