Park Community FCU Replaces Branch Servers with 'Virtual' LAN
o Company said appliance provides LAN-like performance to WAN.
o Kentucky credit union said appliances have replaced servers.
o Benefits include faster application performance and less bandwidth utilization.
o Centralized IT staff no longer has to travel to branches for server work.
Using an add-on appliance to turn its wide area network into a kind of virtual local area network, Louisville, Ky.-based Park Community Federal Credit Union has eliminated the need for servers at its branches, saving money, manpower and computing time.
Steelhead appliances from Riverbed Technology sit at each of the $464 million credit union's 15 locations and use T1 lines to provide LAN-like access through the credit union's far-flung WAN.
"It's just an appliance that sits in-line between the branch and the data center and optimizes the traffic through the WAN link, but they have literally replaced our servers," said Eric Hubbard, network operations manager.
That's saved money and time. While the appliances cost about $5,000 each, the approximate cost of a server, they won't need to be replaced in the foreseeable future and don't require supporting equipment, such as racks, keyboards and monitors, or maintenance beyond a support agreement, Hubbard said.
They also are basically plug and play, he added. "For our remote branches, we preconfigured them at our data center and mailed them to our branches. We told them how to hook them up and they did it, and it worked."
With nine branches in Louisville, three in the Lexington area, two in Macon, Ga., and one in Decatur, Ala., that saves a lot of travel time for a centralized IT staff, Hubbard said.
Riverbed said the devices address a series of issues that affect application performance over the WAN, simultaneously improving throughput and reducing bandwidth usage of such mission-critical applications as file sharing, e-mail, SSL and CRM solutions.
That was a major selling point for the credit union. "When you look at the ROI and total cost of our ownership, adding more bandwidth is super expensive," Hubbard said.
Nik Rouda, director of product marketing for Riverbed, said the Steelhead appliances have reduced the credit union's WAN traffic by 70% to 80% and made its applications five to seven times faster. "This enables employees to be more productive and its members' financial data is more secure with faster and more frequent backup to the data center," he said.
Park Community initially tested the appliances on its SEGManager sales and business development software, which has to download its entire 208-megabyte database each time it is started at each location. Before the credit union brought in the Steelheads, that process could take up to 25 minutes, Hubbard said.
"When we put in the Riverbed appliances, it took less than a minute," he said. "We were real skeptical about them at first, so we put them in just a couple locations, but now we have 15 of them in place."
The new devices have also eliminated the need for branch staff to rely solely on tapes for data backup, Hubbard said. File server functions also have been dramatically sped up.
Not all functions are fully using the devices, however. For instance, the FICS loan application software opens through the Riverbed WAN and then uses its own SQL-based processes, since the devices aren't optimized for SQL, Hubbard said.
"It speeds up the loading time but then it runs like it always has," he said. The situation is similar with the contact management system and printer support. They work but are not optimized. "Riverbed has released a new hardware version that supports that but we're not planning to upgrade," Hubbard said. However, he added, the credit union is considering using the Riverbed appliances for some disaster recovery functions.
He also said the deployment was not without challenges. One issue was with cash dispensers. "Because of the way Riverbed optimizes TCP packets, not based on caching, it was memorizing similar transactions and would send those to our Symitar core processing system. So we just excluded the cash dispensers from the optimization," he said.
Riverbed Technology is a San Francisco-based provider of WAN optimization solutions to about 7,800 customers. The company declined to say how many are credit unions.