Banking On Speed

By Jim Thompson  |  Posted 2001-03-05

Banking On Speed

Amalgamated bank realized just how important speed was when traffic on its 10/100 Ethernet network began to resemble downtown Los Angeles rush hour.

"Our network was a collection of various technologies from a variety of vendors," says Barry Horowitz, first VP of information systems for Amalgamated Bank. "It got to a point where it just couldnt handle the demands of our applications or our users. We even had to outsource some of our transaction processing."

Adding additional routers and switches to its existing system would be a never-ending cycle. After talking with engineers and system designers at Cisco Systems, the bank decided to scrap the entire LAN and start over with a faster and more flexible system.

"The bank has strict procedures on selecting vendors, so we did do a lot of homework," notes Horowitz. "Besides Cisco, we talked to Cabletron and to Xylan, which has since been acquired by Alcatel. They all have strong products, but theres more to it than just the speed or design of the switches. We were looking for a real partner that could support more than just this one project."

Horowitz says Cisco emerged as the clear choice for the networking equipment required to meet Amalgamated Banks present and future needs. Cisco then referred the bank to Dimension Data, one of only six Cisco Gold Partners worldwide.

A Safe Bet

A Safe Bet Founded in 1983, Dimension Data is one of the largest independent network and I-commerce services businesses in the world, with operations in more than 30 countries on six continents. Its extensive experience in network implementations coupled with a strong track record in infrastructure deployment and business consulting made it the perfect partner for Amalgamated Bank.

"The endorsement by Cisco gave us immediate confidence in the capabilities of Dimension Data," Horowitz says. "They analyzed our problem and suggested solutions almost immediately."

Dimension Data realized that Gigabit Ethernet was the most efficient and cost-effective way to unsnarl Amalgamated Banks traffic jam. Besides a tenfold speed boost, a Gigabit Ethernet system could utilize the banks existing copper cabling, as well as fiber-optic cable.

"As a financial institution, Amalgamated had several key areas of concern," says Rino Bratelli, major account manager for Dimension Data. "The most important was redundancy. A banking institution cant afford the risk of being down even for a short period. They also were concerned with scalability, security, management and compatibility with their existing systems and software."

Dimension Data began what Bratelli calls a "forklift upgrade" of the banks LAN by replacing its legacy equipment with Cisco Catalyst Gigabit Ethernet equipment.

"The design included redundancy not only in the core, but also in the IDF [Intermediate Data Frame] closets," explains Dimension Data project manager Steve Iglio. "We put in two Cisco Catalyst 6500s configured with HSRP [Hot Standby Routing Protocol], dual power supplies, and dual MSFC [Multilayer Switch Feature Card] modules. Each of the 10 IDF closets has a 4000 series Catalyst with redundant power supplies. They also added dual-homed Gigabit connections from the IDF to the MDF [Main Data Frame]."

Iglio notes that the biggest challenge was "how to integrate the network seamlessly into their current architecture with minimal downtime and outages to their user community." That challenge was met via a phased approach, which included using core 6500s and interconnecting them to the banks legacy core. "Then we implemented all the 4000 series into the IDFs. Each night we converted one IDF closet," adds Iglio.

Future Dividends

Future Dividends Although speed was our initial concern, Amalgamateds Gigabit Ethernet system opens a lot more opportunities and possibilities, says Horowitz: "Its impacted all of our departments and resulted in significant savings in time along with an increase in productivity."

In addition to resolving Amalgamated Banks immediate concerns, the Gigabit Ethernet solution provided a foundation for the future. The Cisco Catalyst 6509 multilayer switches that make up the core of the network can be upgraded from a 32-Gigabit backplane to a 256-Gigabit backplane.

"The Cisco Catalyst Gigabit Ethernet solution is perfect for many companies because it not only supports current requirements, but will scale to support technologies like VoIP [Voice over IP] and video," notes Iglio. "A few years ago, we though only ATM could support bandwidth like this. Gigabit Ethernet provides not just speed, but its also a lot easier to implement and manage."

Earning Interest

Earning Interest Cost is another reason why many companies are choosing Gigabit Ethernet over some rival technologies. "Depending on services required, a typical project such as this will run under $1 million," Bratelli says. "Dimension Data will tailor the scope of the project to ensure that the client is well within budget."

Now that phase one is complete, Dimension Data is scheduled to add Internet access, e-mail and remote access via the Internet or dial-up, along with Cisco PIX firewalls and other security measures. Further down the road, the bank has plans to leverage the Gigabit Ethernet system to accommodate videoconferencing over IP and VoIP.

"Dimension Data and Cisco Systems stuck with us through every step of the project," reaffirms Horowitz. "They were more than just vendors, they became our partners in solving our present problems and by helping us plan for the future."

Sounds like the network is paying some solid returns.

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