SUITLAND, Md. – Andrews Federal Credit Union (AFCU) serves a lot of people with high-tech, high-security jobs, and it has some pretty high-tech gear of its own. The $685 million military-based CU is running a storage-area network (SAN) from EMC Corp. that has reduced daily backup of all servers from 26 hours to four hours, among other things, and allows storage to be expanded or reduced online with virtually no physical limitations. “In addition to the flexibility, the SAN and replication technology are keys to our future plans for in-house and geographically diverse disaster recovery,” said Patricia Doe, the credit union’s vice president of information technology. And since its original installation about two years ago, the system has been continually enhanced through collaboration with the 94,000-member CU’s technology consultant and partner, Network Data Systems (NDS). For instance, security is a constant concern, and SANs can present a special challenge because they’re often used to store member-sensitive data, such as imaged checks and statements, in remote locations as well as onsite and can be accessed over the Web. To ensure security, each of the AFCU system’s storage hosts are “fiber-zoned” according to their World Wide Name (WWN), allowing connection and access only to specified drives, said Scott Frum, senior systems engineer for NDS. And, he said, it can only be done from one system, the enterprise storage network manager. “There are only a select few people with access to this system,” Frum added. “This greatly reduces the chance for incorrect or inadvertent fiber zoning.” Although NDS frequently recommends EMC storage solutions, “we are somewhat vendor agnostic to ensure that we can recommend the best solutions for our customers,” said Charles Jenkins, NDS’ regional sales manager based in Raleigh, N.C. “Our key technology partners are Cisco, Microsoft, Concord, HP, Citrix and Wyse, to name a few,” he said. Andrews FCU, meanwhile, has a key relationship of its own with Network Data Systems, a greater Chicago-based provider of IT infrastructure consulting to credit unions and banks. In fact, AFCU executives felt comfortable enough with its technology infrastructure consultant that the firm now has eight staffers working onsite with the credit union’s own 15 IT staffers. Seven of the NDS employees are at the Suitland, Md., headquarters and the eighth is at the CU’s operation at McGuire Air Force Base in Wrightstown, N.J. DIVIDING THE DUTIES “This team of engineers provides support, planning and implementation services for the AFCU network and systems infrastructure, as well as database support,” Jenkins said. “One engineer supports and maintains the Unix hosts running Harland’s ULTRADATA platform and the associated storage systems, one supports the many databases throughout the organization and one supports all LAN/WAN switching routing services as well as firewall and IDS solutions. Three support the various Intel-based platforms and the associated business applications, and one supports Intel-based platforms, LAN and telecom services for the branches in New Jersey,” the NDS regional manager said. While outsourcing IT help is becoming more commonplace, it’s not yet ubiquitous in credit union land, and the relationship at AFCU evolved organically – as the result of an infrastructure optimization study that NDS was hired to do in 2000 to help the credit union assess current needs and anticipated growth. “They had aggressive, well thought-out business strategies to increase services to their membership, but did not have a corresponding technology plan that would enable them to implement many of those IT-based services that were needed to support these business objectives,” Jenkins said. The collaborative study identified a number of IT projects deemed critical to the process, which then were integrated into a three- to five-year plan in order of return on investment, and an integrated team was created between the two organizations to meet the IT staffing requirements, Jenkins said. “Network Data Services assembled a team that would focus on implementing and supporting the network and systems. The credit union continues to provide most ULTRADATA processing and support services as well as telecommunications and security using a team of Andrews FCU employees,” Jenkins said, resulting in “an integrated team that together has improved IT efficiency and increased the quality of member services.” Doe, the credit union’s IT vice president, agreed. “We’re working very well together as a team,” she said. “This is a seamless relationship, and I don’t really differentiate my staff, in-sourced or outsourced,” although she did add that “in the end, they are advisers in addressing the needs of the credit union. Decision making and responsibility for those decisions remains with AFCU.” Other benefits she cited include highly qualified staff with no direct responsibility for their hiring and training “other than providing guidance about what technologies AFCU is interested in, and transfer of technology to the permanent AFCU staff.” As for drawbacks, Doe said, “As with all outsourcing there is risk that corporate knowledge is lost. That is why this partnership is structured a little differently, since my expectation is that a certain level of cross training must occur between our partner and our AFCU staff.” As for NDS, Jenkins said his company currently provides solutions from three practice areas – convergence, infrastructure optimization and enterprise service management – to about 10 credit unions and 10 banks, and it hopes to use the success of the AFCU project as a model for similar arrangements in the future. -

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