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Monday, 06 September 2010 14:05

Bank crashes force rethink


Three of Australia's four major banks - the ANZ, Commonwealth and Westpac have endured highly visible and lengthy systems failures in the last fortnight. Unless they further automate their data centres, and minimise human intervention, such outages are likely to continue and possibly worsen.

That is the message from Chip Salyards, vice president for BMC Software in Asia Pacific. Mr Salyards who has been visiting Australian clients - including some of Australia's big four banks - believes that there is still too much human involvement running data centres and large enterprise IT systems - and that's what can lead to system failures.

As the three big banks which endured systems failures know, computer crashes can prove a public relations nightmare. ANZ's in-store eftpos system went awry first, leaving merchants and customers frustrated for several hours; last Monday CBA's eftpos and ATM network went haywire for a good part of the day; and in the middle of the week Westpac's online banking platform was unavailable for nine hours.

'These people are Westpac are smart people - but it's the complexity of the environment,' according to Mr Salyards, and that complexity demands automated management and fault prediction.

The one bank which has emerged from the last fortnight unscathed is NAB. It is a BMC client and according to Mr Salyards '75 per cent of the way there,' in terms of a migration to data centre automation.

BMC sells tools that can provide early detection of potential problems, alert (preferably) a computer system or individual to the issue, route that using ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) procedures to determine what is required as a fix, then automatically fix the problem and finally report on the process.

The ultimate goal is to have a data centre operate as a blackbox, with little or no human intervention. By automating management of the data centre it should be possible to reduce the systems engineering headcount by a factor of four Mr Salyards said.

Currently however; 'IT is trying to support the business, reduce costs, improve efficiency and go green. IT will continue to see more failures because people are now too stressed.'

They are also facing continual change, both in terms of underlying technology and business requirements.

'No one ever gets there 1200 per cent because it's always changing. But our job is to minimise the negative effects of change.

'People understand they have to increase the efficiency and reduce the cost.'

BMC has for the last 30 years focussed on what might be referred to as data centre plumbing. It provides the software and smarts to manage mainframe computers and data centres, and now commands global revenues of close on $US2 billion.

'Our focus is purely on business process management,' said Mr Salyards. 'We've been focussed on the plumbing - the intelligence behind the scenes and understanding what is connected to what.'

While the lure of a failsafe computer network is significant Mr Salyards acknowledges that 'Our greatest challenge is to get the message across.' And even then 'customers still have the challenge of where to start.'

Part of this problem in getting the message across is possibly BMC's own fault. While very successful in the big iron world, which is where it needs to be as it concentrates on selling solutions to the very largest enterprises, BMC's branding and marketing messages can be somewhat opaque. It has traditionally relied on user case studies to 'sell' its message.

In Australia beside NAB, it numbers Victorian government agency CenITex and Telstra among its clients. Lockheed Martin which has won the $60 million contract to manage the ATO's end user computers, is also using BMC's tools for the project said Mr Salyards.

Although NAB is its biggest local bank customer, BMC has worked on ANZ's mainframe support systems and Westpac is also a client, although not for the same range of software and solutions that the NAB has adopted. Separately BMC is working with IBM to develop an internal computing cloud for Westpac that will underpin the online trading platform while providing perimeter security of its computer network, according to Mr Salyards.


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