High stakes

UAE-based Real Estate Bank invests in network infrastructure as it expands its services and grow further.

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By  Sathya Ashok Published  June 30, 2007

The Real Estate Bank is no longer what it used to be.

The Abu Dhabi based bank, which was established by federal law in 1981 and began operations in 1999, was formed in order to facilitate real estate credit for UAE nationals, establishments, companies and co-operative societies.

"Our aim has been to provide credit and finance for real estate developments in the country. Over the last few years the bank has grown exponentially and has had tremendous success in being part of and aiding the real estate growth of the UAE," says Abdul Aziz Al Zaabi, GM of the bank.

Backed by steady growth over the last few years, the bank is planning to expand on its reach and also add onto its service offerings.

"We started out small, but we have had a healthy growth for the last five years. We are planning to add certain banking services to our existing portfolio as well as offer comprehensive online services to our customers. We have also recently added a real estate division through which we plan to work on development projects on our own," says Al Zaabi. The bank is also in the process of finishing a new office building in Abu Dhabi and will move this month to the location.

With the move and the changes it entails, the bank felt the need for a comprehensive, reliable, efficient and up-to-date network infrastructure that would accommodate and cement all of the bank's future growth plans.

"Our original network infrastructure, which has been in operation since 2000, was small. We had a completely Cisco dominated network, with routers, switches, firewalls and IDS. The business strategy for the future necessitated a new network infrastructure that would adequately support current usage as well as serve for growth in the next few years," says Shareefa Saeed Al Jabri, head of IT at Real Estate Bank.

Putting it in place

"The board of directors of the bank has a strong belief that it is essential to have a well-built IT infrastructure. Their vision is to build a pioneering bank providing Real Estate Banking services through the use of the best and most advanced technologies in accordance with the highest standards. Keeping that in mind, we have put our efforts into building a reliable and scalable IT infrastructure that can support our current needs and grow with them in the future," says Al Zaabi.

"We needed an efficient and well known integrator in the region who would be able to provide us with all the solutions at one go and also bring in world class practices for implementation, consultation and training. After looking across various vendors, we finally decided on Alpha Data for the project," reveals Al Jabri.

The initial phase of the project involved a complete network and datacentre design submission by the team at Alpha Data. Following due approval process by the bank's management and certain changes to the original design, the project was carried onto the implementation phase, which started in early June this year and is scheduled for completion this month.

The solution itself involves the complete integration of structured cabling, networking and telephony systems consisting of LAN, WAN, servers, firewalls and IP telephones with the ability to connect between the head office at Abu Dhabi and the Dubai branch.

"For the new infrastructure, we chose a Nortel environment. We have used Nortel core and edge switches along with the firm's IP telephony solution. Our routers remain Cisco," says Mohammed Siddiq, member of the IT team at Real Estate Bank.

"Security is an important concern for us. We have been very conscious of our security requirements since we are planning on offering comprehensive online services for our customers in the near future. Additionally, we are working towards the security certification of ISO 27001. We have pushed for and implemented security features keeping these factors in mind," adds Al Jabri.

The Real Estate Bank has used a combination of Cisco and Juniper security elements to safeguard the network. The products provide two firewall tiers for extra security along with intrusion prevention and detection.

"The idea is that even if hackers get through one firewall, they will be faced with another firewall from a completely different brand. The use of two brands for security also ensures that there is more protection from internal threats," says Muamar Magam, senior telecoms engineers, networks and telecom at Alpha Data.

One step further

The bank has taken care not to neglect the aspects of business continuity and disaster recovery.

"We have a site in Dubai which acts as our disaster recovery location. Redundancy has been provided for all our network equipment at the centre. The datacentre which is part of our new office is a Tier 2 one where the core switch, the main router and the firewall are all redundant. IT functions can be taken over smoothly if failure happens at any one point," states Siddiq.

The entire process, from design to implementation, was carried out as a co-ordinated effort between the IT team at Real Estate Bank and Alpha Data.

"There are not many of our clients who plan for the implementation much before the process starts. But at Real Estate Bank, the IT team really planned for the project.

They even performed feasibility mapping to understand all that could potentially go wrong and prevent the same from happening. That kind of planning helps in ensuring a smooth and fast-paced implementation," says Magam.

First level of service and support will be provided by the internal, five member IT team at the bank on the new infrastructure. Alpha Data assures that they can also provide levels of support to the bank. Al Jabri says that they are yet to work out a maintenance and support agreement with Alpha Data and there is no onsite support from the integrator as per the current scope.

Al Jabri believes that one of the biggest challenges that the company will face when it shifts its office to the new building that houses the network infrastructure, will be familiarising users with the workings of the network, especially on the VoIP side.

"Alpha Data will provide user training in groups to Real Estate Bank in order to increase the comfort level among users with the system," assures Magam.

"We have been quite satisfied with Alpha Data's involvement in the project so far. They have worked hand-in-hand with our team to ensure that the implementation is successful and that the project runs smoothly," concludes Al Jabri.

Project details

Some solutions used in REB's new infrastructure:

· Nortel Ethernet Routing Switch 8300

· Juniper ISG series with IDP

· Nortel's Enterprise Network Management System

· Nortel BayStack 470 switches

· Nortel Business Communication Manager

· Cisco ATM Router and Cisco ISDN Link for backup

· SSL VPN for remote users

· SurfControl antivirus and antispam appliance

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