Africa Nigeria WEMA BANK PLC - AIMING FOR THE CLOUD(S)
Established in 1945, Wema Bank PLC has steadily grown to become Nigeria's most resilient and the longest surviving indigenous commercial bank.
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Nigeria

Established in 1945, Wema Bank PLC has steadily grown to become Nigeria's most resilient and the longest surviving indigenous commercial bank. It was converted to a public limited liability company in 1987. In 1990 the bank was listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange and was granted a Universal Banking License in February 2001. It offers its diverse client base a comprehensive bouquet of services including, amongst others, commercial and consumer banking, institutional banking, corporate finance, retail banking and trade finance operations.

After a restructuring and the appointment of a new management team in 2009, the bank experienced an increase of 200% in its profits. This was mainly achieved after a re-visioning exercise that provided a new strategic focus on good corporate governance and providing exceptional customer value.

The bank operates an integrated computerized banking system that enables it to offer on-line, real-time banking services to its customer base. Around 2 000 employees provide sophisticated banking service to its clients from its head office in Lagos and its 154 branches and service stations dispersed throughout the country. Wema Bank also offers a wide range of electronic banking products accessible on its website, and has deployed a host of Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) to all major branches.

SITUATION

One of the most pressing concerns flowing from the 2009 restructuring was the state and the age of its IT infrastructure. It was essential for the bank to be seen to lead the banking world in the quality and sophistication of its information technology and to present this to its stakeholders and the broader Nigerian public as a significant differentiating factor. To get there, however, was going to require a complete overhaul of its entire enterprise technology.

IT had largely been ignored or, at the very best, neglected to such an extent that the bank's technology landscape was littered with outdated and obsolete hardware, systems and applications. What was available was mostly dysfunctional or driven within isolated silos of self-created tools and applications that were managed without any centralized standards, policies or guidelines. Much of this may well have been done very innovatively and with the best intentions in the world, but the eventual outcome was chaotic and extremely risk prone in many respects.

The bank employed a colorful mixture of Microsoft Servers 2000, 2003 and 2008; all of these without a strategic plan for replacement, capacity building and scalability. These servers were not only old, but also unstable and expensive to maintain. Hardware was also not standardized and included completely outdated HP ML 350 G3, ML 370G5/G5, ML 110, and DL 380 G4/G5, DL 580 G5 servers, supplemented by high end desktops that were used as servers. The total physical server count before the launch of the solution came to 72 - most of these dangerously close to the end of its life expectation.

Floor space in the datacenter offered its own challenges. It was not only far too small to effectively accommodate the ever-growing number of servers, but it was also insufficiently equipped with power and network infrastructure to manage the hardware efficiently. This made for a particularly cluttered and messy working environment with resultant safety and poor housekeeping effects. The datacenter also had major cooling problems, mainly due to the size of the floor space but also due to the age of the equipment that was not designed with modern environmental requirements in mind. This was one of the main causes for continuous service disruption, technical failure and general downtime to take care of maintenance issues.

No server monitoring tools were available to the IT team, making the administration of servers a true nightmare. The licensing model was also inadequate and not cost effective at all.

To top all of this, everything still ran on Windows XP - two full years after Windows 7 had been released!

SOLUTION

Wema Bank's in-house IT team approached the challenge holistically. In November2011, a strong team from the bank under the leadership of Olayinka Oni, Group Head, IT & Operations, participated in a Data Centre briefing and tour led by senior architects from the Microsoft Technology Centre, of a Microsoft data centre in Quincy, Washington, USA. Here the team was exposed to real working examples of what the different Microsoft solutions could do for them, particularly with reference to data centre applications.

Olayinka Oni believes that the experience at the Microsoft data centre shaped their thinking in several respects. "Experiencing a solution in a real time application is always more profound than just reading someone else's interpretation of it in a brochure or fact sheet. We could relate what we saw to the bank's real problems on the floor and selectively focus on matters that were more directly applicable to our problems. Without the attendance and participation we may well have taken decisions that we may have regretted afterwards."

They first bought and implemented a new integrated platform in the HP BladeSystem Matrix to provide the network, storage, and power capacity to run their applications on numerous combined physical and virtual servers, all managed as one environment. This allowed them to reduce the number of servers by 45% from 72 to less than 40, eliminating most of the outdated equipment at once. The impact of this move alone on the data centre was profound.

At the same time, the team implemented an adequate storage solution in the form of the EMC VMax Enterprise Storage system. This would in future take care of the banks vast data storage needs which have been pre-designed for migration to virtual data centers as soon as this was feasible. Throughout the first phase of the project the focus was also to eliminated all redundant existing solutions altogether and to consolidate and integrate the new solutions as far as possible.

Microsoft's Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V was deployed to deliver the virtualization needs for both this project and a simultaneous project that was designed to provide the bank with a comprehensive unified communication solution. Offering reliable and scalable platform capabilities with a single set of integrated management tools, this solution manages both physical and virtual resources. Its virtual capabilities will be harnessed to assist with the move of data center capacity to the Cloud as soon as the time is right for this phase of the project. It will also assist with the support of core functions, such as business continuity, disaster recovery, testing and development, and remote office management.

Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 R2 was installed to act as a systems management tool. It provides the capability to manage large groups of Windows-based computer systems such as Wema Bank's new integrated solution and also provides remote control, patch management, software distribution, operating system deployment, network access protection, and hardware and software inventory. The latter provides both hardware and software inventory across the entire business enterprise. This, amongst others, allows managed laptops to connect to the bank's network from multiple locations without having to download content from the same location every time.

BENEFITS

Although not quite there yet and with another three to four years to completion, Wema Bank's journey to a private cloud infrastructure has made the technology group more flexible and able to respond to the business's needs faster and at considerably reduced costs.

In terms of the bank's marketing objectives the new technology has already made a major contribution by realizing significantly faster time to the market for its products and services and substantially enhanced customer service, both in terms of faster follow-ups and more readily access to human assistance from the bank. It also provides a much more stable platform on which to deploy the state-of-the-art electronic funds transfer systems the bank had recently rolled out.

Through its unique features the Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 application in its own right has assisted the team to realize considerable cost savings and efficiencies through infrastructure management, including centralized power management, scalability and performance enhancements. On the power consumption side it works on the principle that the ratio of servers to power consumption is inversely proportional. Instead of increasing power consumption as more servers are deployed, the consumption actually reduces and stays predictable, giving management more control over its power consumption and allowing them to do efficient capacity planning.

The 45% reduction in the number of physical servers from 72 to less than 40, has reduced not only the cost of maintaining and running the excess servers by more than 50%, but has also cut administrative overheads, mainly in the form of staff cost and reduced licensing costs, by 72%. Further reductions may be possible as the project unfolds into its following phases.

Cost and turnaround time (TAT) for provisioning servers has reduced as a result of the improved flexibility in provisioning server infrastructure. It now takes an administrator, for example, only ten minutes to provision a Windows 2008 R2 Server on a Hyper-V host. This has the domino effect of freeing more IT specialists' time to work on higher priority and non-automated issues and problems.

Olayinka Oni, Group Head, IT & Operations at Wema Bank PLC, and Customer Champion for the project, is particularly proud of his team's achievements on the project so far: "It was significant for us that we have come this far relying predominantly on the skills and knowledge inherent in my team with the external support of Microsoft Premier Support always available in the wings. This bodes well for the remainder of the project and the chances of completing it all well within the budgeted time-frame."

It is not the end of the road yet for Wema Bank's journey to technological superiority. The work so far is seen as the first of several phases. During Phase 1 the emphasis was all on the consolidation and standardization of infrastructure. In the phases to follow over the next two to three years the focus will shift to further efficiency improvements, including policy development and fine tuning.

The embattled data centre has now been relocated to a larger facility with more floor space and improved cabling, power and cooling infrastructure. The next step is to create what's called a "hot disaster recovery site" - data storage, backup and recovery in the cloud - to ensure a constant and automated backup and sync between the day's business data and the disaster recovery site.

Data Center Manager at Wema Bank Plc, Mr. Timothy Olayemi, says: "We have come a long, long way in a relatively short time with this project. We should start identifying which functions and services are best hosted on the Cloud and get that out of the way in order for my people to stay motivated and to embrace the new technology with conviction. After all; it works for them as much as it works for the bank.

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