Having virtualized 95 percent of its data center in 2008, Jacksonville, Texas-based Austin Bank faced a new challenge in late 2010 when strong mobile banking adoption among its customers coincided with a merger that delivered a significant number of new customers. As online and mobile banking users skyrocketed, the bank experienced a network appliance malfunction that it was unable to resolve in production.
Had the issue occurred prior to virtualizing, the bank's physical load balancing appliance -- LoadMaster from Yaphank, N.Y.-based KEMP Technologies -- would have automatically shifted traffic non-disruptively to allow affected machines to go offline, explains Jeff Sowell, Austin's VP and network support manager. "With the added demands from mobile and the merger, we needed the same [load balancing] capability for our virtual environment," he says.
However, the bank already had leveraged VMware (Palo Alto, Calif.) to virtualize a mainframe and four IBM boxes running about 70 virtual machines in its headquarters data center. Some 40 miles away, a disaster recovery (DR) site within one of Austin's branch locations contained a similarly virtualized environment. The most recent generation of physical KEMP devices also had been deployed at both the main and remote locations.
In search of a solution to prevent future outages in the bank's virtualized environment, Sowell called KEMP and discovered that the vendor offered a new virtual software option, the Virtual LoadMaster (VLM). Rather than support two different vendors, Austin Bank ($1.2 billion in total assets) decided to stick with the proven partner.
After purchasing the solution online, Sowell says, he downloaded, installed and configured it on the spot, going live within about two hours. "Since we were familiar with the vendor, we were comfortable installing VLM during the business day," he remarks.
Within just a few weeks Austin Bank was leveraging other VLM capabilities to further streamline IT operations, according to Sowell. First, in combination with the physical LoadMaster appliances, the bank separated internal traffic from external traffic, permitting internal users to log into a single interface to access all banking applications and making external traffic faster and more reliable, Sowell says.
"Regardless of how many features we add to our online banking, we still have to push traffic through the same pipe," he observes. "The VLMs maximize performance, making the added complexity transparent to the end user."
In addition, the VLM software allowed Austin Bank to begin balancing online and email traffic between the main data center and the DR site. "This turned our DR location into a hot site," Sowell notes. "If there is an outage at one location, such as during a storm, traffic automatically routes to the other with no perceived difference to the end user."
VLM also makes network administration a snap, Sowell adds. "Before, we'd take online banking down over a weekend to apply patches, updates and upgrades," he says. "Now, we do it on the fly, during weekdays."
Moving forward, the bank will load balance internal banking applications between the main and DR locations, as well as online and email apps. "At the moment, the limitation is the way banking application vendors wrote their software," Sowell explains. "Once vendors upgrade their applications to permit load balancing, we will begin doing so immediately."
With so many capabilities available at the click of a mouse, Austin Bank's setup is getting noticed. "A Houston banker recently visited us," reports Sowell. "He was flabbergasted that we not only shifted traffic between two virtual servers but also between distant sites. Plus, VLM takes up very little space, uses very little CPU and eliminates hardware failure concerns. Due to the benefits, the cost of VLM is washed away."