Data center upgrades for growth: The Shamrao Vithal Bank story

A quick look at how Shamrao Vithal Co-operative Bank (SVC) plans to use server virtualization and blade servers for its data center upgrade.

When Shamrao Vithal Co-operative Bank (SVC) set up its data center in 2005, it did not envisage escalating business growth and new initiatives like internet banking. According to Subbalakshmi Shirali, the divisional manager of IT for SVC, "IT equipment needs revamp every five years, as technology becomes obsolete. We went in for our data center upgrade with the intention of considering new technologies that can be accommodated within our available data center space." SVC was facing the usual crunch of limited space, power supply and available capacity. Other aspects were manageability and security which worried the IT team a bit.

However, escalating business growth came with the increase in number of SVC's branches from a mere 40 branches five years ago to 100 (at present). Increase in the demand on processing power was taking a strain on the servers. Also, the number of SVC branches is expected to grow to 150 in three years.

As is usual with any upgrades, it is important to first scour the market. "We needed to identify our requirements. We ran a C-DAC tool on our servers which showed us the utilization level of processors, power and the hard disks in order to arrive at a conclusion about the ideal hardware to go in for," says Shirali.

The bank settled on tools from IBM and VMware. Once the tools were configured, the output is directly uploaded to the software provided by IBM. Aspects right from the sizing to the ideal hardware, were calculated based on this output. The tools also helped SVC evaluate the needs for server consolidation. "This process was done around peak periods of the last financial year (in March 2009), where we ran maximum transaction volumes over a month. It gave us a statistical average to the non-peak and peak utilization," says Shirali.

"We ran that tool in branches with heavy transactions even during non-peak periods. That gave us the requirements of CPU-, memory-, and hard-disk utilization. It also helped us decide the ideal configuration if we were to centralize. While we were at it, we also thought of going in for server virtualization," says Sanjay Patil, the divisional manager of IT at SVC.

Currently, applications are spread across multiple platforms. SVC's core banking application is entirely on the Microsoft platform. It uses Visual Basic 6 (VB6) at the front-end and Microsoft SQL Server 2005 at the backend. Other applications are vendor-dependent. Some applications run on AIX platform and others on Oracle. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) applications work on Oracle.

Choosing the right vendor

"Vendor selection was secondary. Our primary concern was the business' requirements," says Shirali. SVC decided to directly deal with the vendors and bypass the distributor.

SVC was toying with the idea of going in for blade servers. The main vendors fitting this bracket were HP and IBM. Thence began the perusing and consideration rounds. It was important that the vendor gives priority to support and warranty. An able implementation partner was yet another requirement. Finally, the bank settled on IBM. The implementation partner for blade center and server virtualization is WiseTech India and Avnet Technologies handles Citrix. SVC has implemented Citrix bandwidth optimizer to reduce network costs.

As per SVC's server virtualization plan, 45 servers will be consolidated on 15 physical servers, as the RBI mandates certain applications to have standalone servers.

The nitty-gritties

According to Manohar Rao, the consultant of IT for SVC, "We also upgraded from the 32-bit to a 64-bit server platform. Currently, we have implemented the same at only one branch. We expect to move another five to six branches to the centralized environment in November 2009. Moving more branches will depend on the current environment's success rate." The bank's major hubs are in Mumbai, Bangalore and Poona.

SVC has 40 servers and 85 distributed servers at different locations. As per SVC's server virtualization plan, 45 servers will be consolidated on 15 physical servers, as the RBI mandates certain applications to have standalone servers. Right now, there are 15 virtual machines per physical machine and the LAN configuration is already in place. In certain cases, there will be 20 virtual machines per physical server. The blade center has 12 blades. Certain servers have a configuration of 2.93 GHz CPUs, around 32 GB RAM and 142 x 6 GB hard disks. Others have 2.4 GHz processors with 32 GB RAM and 142 x 6 GB hard disks. For storage, the blade center is equipped with its own storage which is a 142 x 8 GB hard disk configuration.

The first phase of SVC's upgrade is almost complete. Of the 28 identified servers, 12 have already been virtualized. According to Rao, "We are careful about not wanting to stop any of our services. Thus, we are moving from less critical to the critical." The bank envisages to finish the second phase by March 2010.

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