FirstOntario Credit Union bumps up the bandwidth

An Ontario-based credit union has reduced its loan generation time from 45 to five seconds with the rollout of virtual private network services from a local managed services company.

“It’s a drastic improvement, especially when you’re interacting with a customer to see

a response immediately,” said FirstOntario Credit Union chief information officer and vice-president of technology Roberto Bravo.

FirstOntario has implemented Radiant Communications Corp.’s Advanced Security virtual private network (VPN) solution, which includes IP network connectivity, NetScreen security appliances and managed network services. NetScreen devices have been installed at every location to encrypt transactions sent over FirstOntario’s private DSL network, which never passes through a public network. Remote workers, which account for five per cent of FirstOntario employees, have also been set up with VPN tokens with a password.

Radiant, which has offices in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, offers nationwide broadband services including digital subscriber lines (DSL), T1, fibre and cable. FirstOntario began negotiations with Radiant in November and the two companies signed a contract in January. FirstOntario, which has 17 branches within the Greater Hamilton Area, the Niagara Region and Southwestern Ontario, began piloting the project in February at remote branches and commenced a full rollout in March, adding three branches per week.

FirstOntario was using a frame relay network, which didn’t provide enough bandwidth for the credit union’s applications and was expensive to upgrade, said Bravo. Now with a DSL connection, which Radiant leases at a wholesale price from telcos like Bell and Telus, FirstOntario has seen an increase in bandwidth capacity at a much lower cost. The average cost is around $200 per month, per DSL connection.

“We saw a drastic improvement in our applications and in our data centre,” said Bravo. “Performance is much better. Reliability is up 99.94 per cent.”

Frame relay networks typically support data transfer rates at T-1 or 1.544 Mbps and T-3 or 45 Mbps speeds whereas DSL technologies, often referred to as the “last mile,” offer up to 32 Mbps for upstream traffic and 32Kbps to over 1Mbps for downstream traffic. DSL technologies use sophisticated modulation schemes to pack data onto copper wires.

“(DSL) is a dramatic price performance improvement on bandwidth,” said Radiant vice-president and general manager Jim Johnson. “It’s so much less expensive per bandwidth than the other technologies like frame relay or the telco data pack service. Not only do you get the faster speed, you can do so many more applications.”

For instance, FirstOntario is now looking at implementing Voice over Internet Protocol and setting up a storage area network (SAN) as opposed to having a server in each branch. FirstOntario has also been able to interface its core banking system with its loan application system, which is Web-enabled.

“Before we didn’t have enough bandwidth to use it,” said Bravo. “We could interface but it was very slow.”

Future projects include managing documents inside the credit union’s network such as digitized copies of cheques, for example, and putting ATMs on the network to enable the company to monitor all machines from one location to better-detect paper jams and low cash levels.

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