Banking On Linux, Literally: IDBI Bank

by Hinesh Jethwani    Jul 02, 2004

The Banking & Financial services sector has always been a cautious experimenter when it comes to embracing Open Source technologies. Anti-Linux hardliners have done their bit, by spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt in the market. The result: Support and security concerns surrounding Linux still exist in the CIO world. After all, how do you explain the concept of Open Source to an industry where the word ’open’ is considered as the most dreaded term in a CIOs dictionary?

However, a wind of optimism is headed towards the industry, which is all set to undergo a sea change. Increasing vendor interest and belief in Linux, particularly Oracle’s latest LEAP with Red Hat has reinforced confidence amongst early adopters to walk the mission critical way with the penguin.

IDBI is one such pioneer that has taken the road less traveled with Linux, using multiple instances of the OS to support various mission-critical applications. The bank has moved on from the days of clinching the coveted title of being the first organization in the Indian banking and financial industry to use Oracle Financials and HRMS on Linux. Using Oracle in combination with Linux is quickly becoming the latest win and win combo that most CIOs are searching for.

Speaking to CXOtoday, Sanjay Sharma, Head-IT, IDBI Bank, said, “The fact that Linux support is difficult to find, is nothing short of a myth. The Oracle initiative has removed many apprehensions, and the move should be followed by other vendors as well. Today, Linux has revolutionized our setup, especially on the mission critical application front. Oracle Financials and HRMS run on Linux AS 2.1, Sendmail is based on Red Hat Linux 8.0 and our IVR phone banking solution is powered by Slackware Linux 8.0 and a PostgreSQL 7.0 DBMS. Linux has allowed us the freedom to continue using our four year old HP server boxes. That’s one of the strongest benefits of Linux - it allows you to scale the number of users without the obvious pinch of upgrading your hardware.”

“The TCO from the hardware perspective is significantly lower, as increasing number of users doesn’t push you into a hardware upgrade. Our Intel Xeon dual processor server that hosts Oracle Financials and HRMS currently handles a traffic of 2,000 users spread across 100 offices in 69 cities. We have scaled from an initial 600 users to a current figure of 1700, without any system upgrade. It is a classic case of Linux deployment - using the same systems to serve a multiplied user audience,” informed a very confident Sharma.

Users log into the server through an Intranet portal. The HRMS system handles everything including performance appraisals, and reviews online.

“The Linux edge is very clear: It delivers excellent performance on the Intel platform, eliminating the need for opting for the more expensive RISC systems. The stability and robustness of Linux is a definite asset, and the frequency of patches is lower than that of Windows, making administration an easy task. Moreover, the skill set required to administer Linux boxes is minimal. I would say that the overall performance of Linux is equivalent to the stability achieved in a Unix environment, at a much lower cost,” explained Sharma.

And the use of Linux at IDBI is not limited to the mission critical front only. “We are also using Jabber - an open Instant Messaging (IM) tool, for facilitating employee chat across our Intranet,” quipped Sharma

“Linux support, both structured (via third party vendors) and unstructured (through web forums) is truly exceptional. Support from Open Source forums is commendable and problem resolution is prompt,” clarified Sharma.

IDBI had a clear-cut advantage in toying with Linux, as most applications were rolled out afresh on the platform. “As we started these applications with Linux, migration hassles were automatically eliminated,” explained Sharma.

So what is the future of Linux at IDBI? Sharma explained, “We are currently experimenting with Linux based security solutions like Firewalls. Linux desktops are next on our roadmap. The only worry involved with using Linux on the desktop side is application support. Supporting major banking applications on Linux browsers is still a problem, as vendors are yet to embrace the idea.”

“Only when all core banking applications move to Linux, can we take our Linux desktop migration plan ahead. Currently all clients run different versions of Windows. Training users to adapt to Linux desktops is not a primary concern, as the basic GUI is the same for both today,” concluded Sharma.

Tags: Linux