Tomorrow the world

The National Bank of Kuwait has upgraded its network, deployed a datacentre as well as disaster recovery solutions and is working on a fibre backbone as it sets its sights on becoming an international player.

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By  Sathya Mithra Ashok Published  September 12, 2007

The National Bank of Kuwait (NBK) is by far the largest and most dominant financial institution in Kuwait.

Along with branches across Kuwait, the bank has an extensive international network including branches, subsidiaries and representative offices in countries including Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, Singapore, China, Iraq and KSA.

NBK decided to go with vendors who had a strong reputation in the market and service assurance across the region. It also decided to build a strategic relationship with each of them.

But the bank and its management is far from resting on its laurels. The financial institute has ambitions which stretch worldwide where it will face competition from more established banks. IT is considered part of this strategy.

"All IT decisions are made in the light of larger business goals. Nothing is ever done without understanding the impact it would have on the company. IT has to be justified by business benefits," says Fadi Chehayeb, CIO of NBK.

With growth in mind, the management and the IT team have been building a network to ensure better connectivity and higher efficiency of services that will prove to be a reliable backbone when they step away from familiar shores.

Starting out on the path

NBK began to look into upgrading its network sometime in 2004. According to Chehayeb, though there was work done in setting up the ATM backbone earlier, 2004 marked the "first major implementation."

On deciding to rehaul the network, NBK made a conscious decision to go with Cisco as the single vendor for its active components.

"Some of the systems and solutions that we would be putting into the network would involve new technologies. We were worried about receiving adequate support for these across the region since we have our branches in other parts of the GCC," says Chehayeb.

He explains that at this stage NBK decided to go with vendors who had a strong reputation in the market and service assurance across the region. It also decided to build a strategic relationship with each of these vendors such that the company is given attention and importance befitting a client of stature.

"Our strategy was to consolidate all network and security elements with one vendor to create consistency in infrastructure management. Cisco was the perfect choice for us considering everything that we needed," says Chehayeb.

NBK implemented the Cisco IP communications solution, with the help of Gulf Business Machines, in a phased manner. Phase one consisted of providing IP connectivity to NBK's branches, upgrading their datacentre and disaster recovery sites as well as migrating the call centre to IP.

A lot of effort was put into redoing the main datacentre.

"We had a lot of legacy systems in the datacentre. There were mainframes, mid range legacy technology, UNIX, Windows and all kinds of other technology. The whole datacentre was a variety of technologies co-existing in some situations and not even doing that in others," says NBK's Chehayeb.

NBK created a consolidated, centralised datacentre with effective security with the help of Cisco. Applications were retailored and solutions re-engineered to take full advantage of the advanced datacentre and the network upgrade, including the creation of multiple zoning on firewalls.

The IT team also created a disaster recovery site in another part of Kuwait with full mirroring and redundancy capabilities. Chehayeb says that though the firm has a similar DR facility in the UK, it is the DR site in Kuwait which will take over the full load of datacentre operations - connecting branches across the region and other activities - within hours of any failure at the bank's main datacentre.

"Phase one is almost over. There is only a bit of clean up and maintenance work that is yet to be performed. Right now more than 90 branches are on the IP network and around 2500 IP phones have been installed. We expect to have wrapped up all minor issues in another 12 months time," assures Chehayeb.

Migration of the call centre has also begun. The centre is being moved to a Cisco IPCC platform which will help in full integration with the new datacentre and the network's additional capabilities.

Meanwhile, the bank has started the second phase of the network. In the near future, NBK is considering upgrading its national branches into a mixture of 10Gbs and 1Gbs fibre links with MPLS configured on top of new Cisco7600 routers and achieving network segregation for different groups and departments within the bank that require their own network connectivity.

"The next step will largely consist of putting in a full fibre MPLS backbone and also upgrading our network management system (NMS) in order to improve availability and reduce complexity," says NBK's Chehayeb.

He clarifies that MPLS is meant to address a growing need for customer facing applications like video and voice, which requires high bandwidth capabilities. The preparation phase is complete and in a few months implementation contracts for the backbone will be awarded.

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