Visa Upgrades Mean Business

Card giant keeps transactions fast, reliable with massively coordinated system upgrades.

When holiday shopping hits the frenzy level, Visa International will be well-prepared to handle an expected peak load of 100 million transactions per day—as many as 6,200 per second—thanks to its largest system upgrade ever.

The rollout of the upgrade last month included an unprecedented number of enhancements and applications to Visas payment processing system. It was the successful culmination of an effort that took nine months of intense planning and the efforts of 300 IT professionals, and involved approximately 120,000 code changes, 150,000 worker hours and a revamping of 27 major areas of the system.

In addition to the nine-month planning process, Visa also dedicated several months to internal-systems testing at partner sites and as much as eight weeks of quality assurance testing to ensure the upgrade could be implemented without a hitch.

The upgrade—one of two that occur yearly at the worlds largest credit card brand—will allow the Foster City, Calif., company to provide new services to its merchants and bank partners while ensuring that its network remains flexible and reliable, officials said. (Security measures are added as separate, more frequent updates, they said.)

With research company Forrester Research Inc., of Cambridge, Mass., predicting online holiday sales will increase 20 percent over last year, to reach $13.2 billion this year, new services included in this latest update will be more important than ever.

"We make a promise to cardholders that our global system will work 24 hours a day, even while a great deal of change is being implemented," said Scott Thompson, executive vice president of Inovant LLC, Visas technology solutions division.

"With the magnitude of the release, things could go wrong, but because we do testing and QA, we have a good sense going into the implementation what our risks are. It really all comes down to planning and execution," Thompson said.

Visa upgrades its VisaNet systems twice a year, in April and in October. Because upgrades are conducted across all four of the companys data centers (London, Tokyo and two in North America), the major challenge is ensuring the network can continue to process transactions as the upgrade occurs.

This involves a delicate balancing act because two versions of VisaNet—the old and the new—are running simultaneously throughout the 24-hour upgrade period, and the network has to be designed to process transactions originating from either the older or newer systems.

At the same time, Visa has to ensure that its member banks successfully complete the upgrade on their end.

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