Canadian credit union goes wireless to replicate data

Canadian credit union goes wireless to replicate data

In one of the first projects of its kind, a Canadian credit union this week has set up a wireless IP network to replicate banking data and other information from its primary data center to a disaster recovery site 32 miles away.

In one of the first projects of its kind, a Canadian credit union this week has set up a wireless IP network to replicate banking data and other information from its primary data center to a disaster recovery site 32 miles away. Steinbach Credit Union Inc. in Steinbach, Manitoba, said it's saving C$70,000 (US$47,762) a month by using a wireless setup instead of leasing a virtual private network. The company also didn't have to deal with last-mile connectivity issues, such as the need to lay fiber-optic cable from its buildings to a service provider's network.

Steinbach went live last month with the wireless link between the data center at company headquarters and a backup facility it set up at a branch office in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Both data centers are equipped with storage-area network (SAN) technology developed by Nishan Systems Inc. and XIOtech Corp., which jointly announced the details of Steinbach's installation.

The credit union is using the wireless WAN to replicate customer data stored in Microsoft SQL Server databases, as well as loan origination information, other banking data, e-mail messages and streaming video from surveillance cameras across the wireless WAN. About 600GB of data is transmitted between the two facilities on a continual basis.

Denis Van Dale, network administrator at Steinbach, said the company built three 100-foot-plus radio towers with antennas, bought four radio transmitters and installed additional SAN equipment at a total cost of about $700,000 Canadian. Van Dale added that it also spent an unspecified amount of money on things such as planning and consulting services. He said Steinbach expects to get a return on the investment within 20 months by saving money that would have been spent on more expensive connectivity options.

"I think it's a great solution, especially in a large campus if you didn't want to dig holes [for wires]," Van Dale said, noting that the radio transmitters are designed to support connections ranging from 5 to 16 miles. The wireless WAN took about a year to roll out, with most of that time spent on planning and dealing with zoning issues related to the transmission towers, he said.

The wireless connection offers full-duplex bandwidth of 100MB/sec., according to Van Dale. About 65MB/sec. is reserved for data replication uses, and the remainder of the bandwidth is used for Internet connectivity, other data transfers and remote data-sharing.

Steinbach is using multiprotocol switches made by San Jose-based Nishan to wrap Fibre Channel data packets in IP headers transmission over the wireless network. Ethernet switches from Cisco Systems Inc. convert the data transmissions between 100MB/sec. speeds and the Gigabit Ethernet transmission rates used inside the two data centers.

Proxim Inc. in Sunnyvale, Calif., provided the wireless WAN bridging technology. The switches and bridges link a pair of disk arrays made by Eden Prairie, Minn.-based XIOtech, and Steinbach is also using XIOtech's data replication software.

Robert Gray, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass., said that although wireless links for disaster recovery remain rare, Steinbach's installation is a good example of just how flexible IP networks can be. But, he added, "the issues with using radio depends on the frequency. The spectrum you're using could face interference, degradation over distance, or objects such as buildings and people in the path."

Earlier this month, Van Dale ran into his first transmission difficulties when the University of Manitoba's radio station began broadcasting on the same frequency that Steinbach's WAN uses. That added to the credit union's data stream, sending bit levels above thresholds and causing a network disconnect, he said. Proxim resolved the issue by adjusting Steinbach's frequency.

But the snafu is indicative of a bigger problem with using wireless links to transmit mission-critical data, particularly in densely populated areas, according to Gray. "The problem is, the world of IT is concentrated in certain areas," he said. "You go to San Jose or Manhattan, and if everyone tries to run [their data replication] by radio, I think it's likely they'd run out of spectrum fast." -- Computerworld (US online)

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