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XIBMS – Sailing into retail

XIBMS – Sailing into retail


XIBMS – Sailing into retail

Executive Summary

Previously catering only to corporate, IDBI Bank made the big jump to retail banking only in January 2001. From 54 branches and 79 ATMs nationwide, it is now looking to expand to 100 branches and 300 ATMs as soon as possible. The legacy network had a distributed application where transaction data was recorded and stored locally in the branches.

To enable a smooth migration, the WAN design was modified and new software applications were implemented. A disaster recovery center was set up in Chennai to handle contingency situations. The new network has load balancing, scalability and redundancy built in. IDBI Bank’s eventual aim is to have a network that will be completely transparent to end users.

Until recently, IDBI Bank was content catering to a corporate clientele. Then, in January 2001, some ambitious, forward-looking managers came along to leapfrog IDBI Bank into the competitive world of retail banking. Suddenly, 54 branches and 79 ATMs (Automated Teller Machines) nationwide just didn’t seem enough. As a bank that was looking to cater to the general public, IDBI Bank had to increase the number of branches and ATMs. And, unlike in the days of conventional banking, all these facilities had to be connected reliably through a network of hardware and software.

So the CTO, Neeraj B. Bhai, and his team, got to work. The entire network infrastructure is now being migrated to a new setup. As Neeraj points out, a major upgradation is necessary—new hardware and software, and more scalable applications.


The legacy

Previously, the IDBI Bank network had a star topology. All the branch routers were connected to the central IT office in Mumbai. A VoFR (Voice over Frame Relay) service was introduced for quicker communication between branches. The equipment was mostly from Motorola. This gave each branch two voice ports, which meant that certain intercoms could talk to each other. This network was very convenient for communication: the voice packets travelling between the branches went through just a single router hop.

However, the building blocks of this network were a mix of various elements—leased lines, ISDNs (Integrated Services Digital Networks), radio connectivity, IN (Intelligent Network: a high speed call routing service provided by the Department of Telecommunications, India), and DAMA VSAT (Demand Assigned Multiple Access, Very Small Aperture Terminal) links. This meant little scope for load balancing, backup and disaster recovery—in short a network which wasn’t very easy to manage.

The upgrade

IDBI Bank now wants to expand to 100 branches and 300 ATMs. So the new banking software applications have to be implemented and its WAN design modified. There must also be load balancing, backup and disaster recovery built in.

To begin with, new software for treasury and core banking applications were implemented. Sun’s Enterprise 10000 application servers were deployed. Finacle, an Infosys product, took care of most requirements. Finacle is a Web-enabled, centralized, multi-currency and multi-lingual application platform. It’s open architecture helps it integrate with other applications. The Net banking services platform was upgraded by implementing BankAway, also from Infosys. BankAway provides a platform for integrated financial services. It offers access to services like account information, billing, cash management and trade finance. The ATMs now use RISC-based machines that run Unix; the software, called Call Center, is from TCS.


Design and key features

\”Our basic aim is to get a high-availablity network that supports disaster recovery, and has load balancing features,\” the CTO said. The nationwide network is divided into six major areas/cities: Mumbai (where the centralized IT center is located), Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Delhi. Network Solutions has been hired to help frame the new architecture.

In the earlier architecture, if the links between branches went down, the local servers could run the banking software. This ensured that banking transactions could be made even when the link was down. \”But now, because we’re using Finacle, we can’t operate if the link to the central office is down,\” Niraj explained. The applications are now centralized and network dependency has increased. The network, therefore, must be very robust and redundant, with very little downtime. That’s why plans are afoot to build a disaster-recovery setup in Chennai.

Most of the routers that IDBI Bank uses are Motorola products. But Niraj is open to using other vendors, like Enterasys, Nortel and Cisco. \”We don’t want to use any proprietary routing protocols. There may be situations where Motorola supports a particular protocol which other vendors’ don’t. We want to avoid that and use a mix of equipment,\” he pointed out.

An interesting feature of the network architecture is the IP address scheme built into the design. The scheme is actually a way of future-proofing the network. \”These days, you keep hearing about banks getting acquired or merged to larger counterparts. One never can tell,\” Niraj said with a smile. \”As technology guys, we should be prepared for such an event. If and when there’s some kind of a merger or acquisition, we shouldn’t face a situation where the TCP/IP address scheme doesn’t allow us to integrate another network with ours.\”

IDBI Bank has chosen the 10 dot series of the IP address scheme. The network addresses have been assigned in such a way that a sudden expansion in any zone won’t raise incompatibility issues. \”Keeping in mind that most private enterprises use the 10 dot address scheme, the merged entity will, in all probability, remain at the top of the address scheme area,\” Niraj explained. The bank has used the bottom series to frame the address scheme, leaving the top series free. So even if the new entity is using the 10 dot address, there’s a high probability it will use the top series. This simplifies the migration and integration process.


Operations and applications

Since Finacle is the main banking application and is browser-based, there are a number of Web servers at the 24×7 network monitoring center in Mumbai. The branches can use browsers to access Finnacle. There are some client/server applications for corporate cash management services. A link encryptor is used on all leased lines for safety.

The IT hub in Mumbai uses HP OpenView tools. Niraj confided that IDBI Bank was looking to outsource as many services as possible. Currently, basic services, operations, the interaction with internal entities, and the follow up with external ones, are all outsourced.

ATMs don’t need very high bandwidth, but have very high uptime requirements. VSAT connectivity is the most appropriate for this. For connectivity between other network elements, IDBI Bank prefers more traditional methods: There are fallback ISDN links at each location. \”We’re also trying to reduce dependency on a single service provider,\” Niraj said. If one location has two connectivity providers, the idea is to use the services of both. That way, if and when one service provider fails, the other one takes over.

The bank is keen on introducing Internet banking. There are plans of making call centers in certain cities. \”VoFR technology may be upgraded to VoIP (Voice-over Internet Protocol). And if regulations permit, we may be able to carry voice messages to our call centers,\” Niraj said. Currently, the voice instruments are connected directly to the routers. If one branch wants to talk to another, a caller simply picks up the instrument connected to the router and dials the branch code followed by the extension number. \”As our needs grow, we’ll get a dedicated EPABX to let customers connect to the voice phones,\” he said. Of course, the routers will have to be installed with voice cards to enable this.


Disaster recovery
For retail banking, Finnacle and Call Center are the key applications. So data from these applications have to be backed up properly. That’s why the disaster recovery facility in Chennai.

But why Chennai? The facility had to be outside Maharashtra for two logical reasons. First, if the setup is in or around Maharastra, it will be in the same seismic zone as the network management center. Second, proximity also puts both facilities in the same power grid. Both situations are potentially dangerous. Niraj reminded that when migrating the site, the network infrastructure should be such that traffic may be routed smoothly to the disaster recovery site. \”The design must allow total redundancy in case of failures,\” he said.

The other disaster recovery solution IDBI Bank is considering is to have multiple connectivity options at each branch. There will be a link each to the zonal main branch and to the central IT office. So even if the zonal branch link fails, connectivity is assured through the second link with the central office. The primary link would be a leased line, the secondary one an ISDN line.


Storage and backup

Currently IDBI Bank uses a Sun Microsystems, StorEdge T3 storage solution. These are 16 boxes with nine 18GB hard disks in each box. The backup solution is by ATL and is called P2000. This box has seven DLT (Digital Linear Tape) drives which function simultaneously. A hundred DLTs can be stored in this box.


The load

IDBI Bank’s CTO feels load balancing depends on how you set yor router configuration and how you design the network. The routers are capable of taking a decision based on the volume of data. Since the router can take various routes to the central location, it can dynamically shift the link and load through various paths. The subnet design, too, is well suited to support load balancing. On the servers, IDBI Bank has fiber channel connectivity in the storage boxes, with backup devices. Intelligent switches isolate traffic from one segment of the LAN (Local Area Network) to minimize collision. For example, the ATM switch and the main banking applications are in totally different segments and isolated from each other.


The bumps on the way

But a migration of this magnitude can never be without its hiccups, can it? Niraj admitted that the relationship with various services providers was far from ideal. It was mostly a kind of last-mile problem. \”See, it’s easy to get a 2Mbps link. But you ask for 64Kbps, and you realize that telecom providers seldom give much priority to the clients at the lower end of their service spectrum.\” That sounds like a familiar grouse. But then who said networking was an easy job?



  1. When did IDBI enter the retail banking?
  2. What was the experience of IDBI in Corporate Banking?
  3. What do you mean by up gradation in Banking?

XIBMS – Sailing into retail

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