Full Internet banking one step closer with First-e

Creating a real-time customer account tracking service was no mean feat for First-e, says Danny Bradbury

Creating a real-time customer account tracking service was no mean feat for First-e, says Danny Bradbury

Components and objects are the name of the game when it comes to Internet banking, judging by an announcement made last week.

First-e, an Internet bank set up last October, has signed a deal with Borland/Inprise to purchase its Visibroker object request broker as the basis for a real-time customer account tracking service.

The bank had been using the Twister product from Brokat to handle the connection of front-end Internet services to its back-end systems.

First-e, which has operated as a simple money repository guaranteeing high interest rates, will launch a current account and online share dealing service this month.

Shane Colclough, chief technical officer at the company, explains that moving to this model has drastically increased First-e's technical requirements. "We have a concept of buying power, so that people with money in the bank can spend that money on shares," he says. "When someone goes up to an ATM and puts in their card, we have to know in real time how much money they can withdraw. IT is complicated by the fact that people are using money to do trading online."

First-e currently uses an Oracle 8 database connected to a disc array. It uses a Sun Microsystem cluster at the back end to handle transaction processing. Although many object-oriented database companies are advocating the use of object data storagefor Web-based e-commerce applications, Dirk Marzlus, development manager with Factor-e, the outsourcing partofthe groupproviding back-end services to First-e, explains that this was not an option for the bank.

True, the event-driven nature of e-commerce applications makes object storage an attractive proposition, but First-e had too much existing investment in the Oracle product. It does all of its database reporting using Oracle, and this can be hard to change, especially given the Oracle skills it has built up in-house.

Instead, the bank uses the object-relational mapping capabilities within Oracle 8. This sort of attitude will doubtless be one of the biggest hurdles for small object database management system companies such as Versant, which are trying to persuade customers to take the fully object-oriented route.

While it is using Java as a programming language for some of its back-end code, First-e is also wary of using the server-based component framework Enterprise Javabeans (EJB) as a basis for its performance-critical applications, explains Marzlus.

"Most of the EJB services don't scale that well, so we only use it in non-critical components," he says. This is the reason he chose the Corba object model as the basis for the critical buying power component.

WhileCOM+from Microsoft and Sun's EJB are both attracting lots of interest in the server-based e-commerce application space, for mission- critical applications such as banking, the more complex but more established Corba object framework is a no-brainer.

It seems that Sun still has some work to do convincing higher end customers that its server technology can fulfil all its promises.

  • In another Internet banking deal, Abbey National signed with middleware company BEA Systems to use its Tuxedo messaging product as the basis for integration between its legacy and middle-tier systems.

    The Tuxedo product is part of BEA's Ecommerce Transaction Platform, which also includes an object request broker and an Enterprise Javabeans broker. Abbey National has pledged to use component-based development techniques for future e-commerce applications.

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