Disaster recovery boosts customer service ops at Punjab National Bank

When you have 38 million customers to take care of, you need to have an offsite disaster recovery facility to ensure that things work smoothly for them.

This bank started off in 1895 as the first Indian bank to start with Indian capital. Today, Punjab National Bank (PNB) has become the third largest bank in India with 38 million customers, 4668 offices, and assets of more than Rs 2,46,900 crore. An offsite disaster recovery facility has ensured that PNB lives up to its tagline, "the name you can BANK upon!"

Three tips for effective disaster recovery
* A disaster recovery policy should be duly prepared, wherein each functionary's role must be defined in detail. It should ideally be reviewed once a year, and be flexible enough to incorporate new changes.

* For any offsite setup, security is vital. So ensure that the setup is not accessible to general public. The powerload and power backup should also be planned properly.

* The facility should aim not only at providing continuity of the business, but also about dealing with all required activities to be handled at the time of a disaster.

 On any given day, PNB handles about 37,00,000 transactions, and has 25,000 concurrent users at any point. In 2002, when PNB decided to put its entire operations on a core banking system (CBS), it also started working on an offsite disaster recovery setup.

According to Ajay Misra, the GM of IT for PNB, onsitedisaster recovery is not disaster recovery at all. "The CBS application is what drove our whole offsite disaster recovery initiative." PNB's offsite disaster recovery center is located in Mumbai, whereas the primary data center is in Delhi. "The city is not in a seismic zone, and definitely not in a sensitive seismic zone, unlike Delhi. Also, we had our own premises. Thus the basic shell was available, which we had to convert into a data center." Yet another factor that promoted Mumbai was the easy availability of infrastructure and quality manpower. For implementation, factors such as site preparation and installation took somewhere around six months.

Data from PNB's Delhi data center is transferred on a continuous basis to the Mumbai data center through high bandwidth leased lines. Since the bank wanted completely new infrastructure at its Mumbai data center, none of the old equipment was reused. The setup runs entirely on Sun infrastructure, with dual core processor servers running the show. For storage purposes, PNB uses a Sun SAN. The bank already had a Sun setup at its Delhi data center, hence it was more logical to have the same setup in Mumbai. (There is a certain process in the public sector domain for selecting a vendor. A public tender is sent out, and the selection process is very transparent. After evaluating a tender technically, it is viewed from the commercial point of view.) For disaster recovery planning and assessment, PNB has a set of consultants which comprises a team from IIIT Bengaluru.

Apart from CBS, other applications which have been put on the disaster recovery setup are Internet banking, ATM switches and real time gross settlement (RTGS) transactions. The size of the bank's database is a massive 13 TB.

Innovative disaster recovery techniques

PNB's IT team has done some very innovative work in business continuity planning, for which the bank has won some prestigious awards. In all its branches, the bank has taken possession of one PC, which is controlled from the data center. This PC acts as a server for that particular branch.

Incremental data (account balances, signatures of account holders, etc) is automatically pushed four times a day through PNB's Intranet. Thus, the incremental position of all accounts in a PNB branch is available at any given point of time. In case the data center server experiences any abnormality, the local PC is still available as a server with all accessible information.

PNB's IT team believes that surprise drills are a great way to measure the reliability of a disaster recovery setup. "We ensure availability levels of 99.95%. We do a drill once a quarter without informing any of the bank branches. And never has the disaster recovery failed us," informs Misra. The bank has achieved an RTO of about two hours.

Misra cites accountability and availability of the business as the main reasons for having a disaster recovery setup. "We are accountable for our customers' money, and having a healthy disaster recovery mechanism ensures that the money is safe."

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