RBC retires frame relay network in favour of MPLS at branches

The Royal Bank of Canada Tuesday said it is planning on making network upgrades to all 1,300 of its branches coast to coast.

Canada’s largest bank will move from its current frame relay network to a consolidated IP multi protocol label switching (MPLS) network starting later this year. The work will be accomplished by a team of vendors with Bell Canada as the lead and IBM Canada and Cisco Systems Canada providing support and equipment.

“Frame (relay) certainly had long legs and served us well,” said Dick Swadley, RBC’s executive vice-president of IT infrastructure, but a network capable of handling higher bandwidth applications was deemed necessary.

“We always want to be in place to support the development of new applications, which tend to take additional bandwidth. I wanted to have a more seamless way to be able to grow bandwidth,” he said.

MPLS will be able to support the bank’s future needs, he said, which could include voice-over IP, video-conferencing or branch-to-branch communications. Swadley didn’t provide specifics on any data management applications that could affect customer service, but said that the bank is always moving towards a single view of client information.

“We try to include on the screens that are available to the tellers as much about the customers’ relationships with the organization as is possible,” he said.

RBC issued an RFP for the upgrade in September 2005. The troika of Bell/Cisco/IBM won the bid in a competitive process, but is also responsible for another of the bank’s major networking upgrades, which were first announced earlier this year. Bell and its partners are in the middle of a VoIP upgrade for 8,400 phone lines at RBC’s Toronto facilities. Swadley said that implementation is proceeding according to plan and about 3,000 VoIP lines have been installed to date.

The branch MPLS upgrade will start later this year, said Swadley, and is still currently in the test phase. “All going well, we plan to get into the pilot rollout in September,” he said.

Renato Discenza, senior vice-president enterprise accounts for Bell Canada, said that his company had its hands full trying to manage two major telco deployments for RBC, but has the wherewithal to see them through.

Where the VoIP upgrade is a local project, the MPLS switchover is spread over all of Canada. The rollout will occur according to RBC’s timetable, said Discenza, but the specifics may change depending on location.

“There’s a technical procedure that’s literally done branch by branch depending on whether we’re the incumbent, getting release dates from the branch and making sure the new circuits are lined up,” he said, adding that the upgrades will be done during each branch’s off hours to minimize downtime.

RBC has also tackled a third networking upgrade, but with a different telecommunications provider. In January the bank announced an MPLS upgrade to its standalone ATM machines through a deal with MTS Allstream. Of the 1,900 bank machines that were targeted for the upgrade, approximately 100 have been completed said Swadley. The upgraded bank machines are designed to support next-generation bank applications like remembering a user’s favourite transaction.

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