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Myriad networks folded together.


First American Data Services, Reston, Va., provides data processing and communications services for banks throughout the eastern U.S., including First American Banks of Washington D.C., New York, Virginia, Georgia, and Maryland.

The network is accessed by tellers for account management (who handle such matters as account inquiries and opening new accounts).

It supports the automated teller machine (ATM) network for all the banks.

It provides voice transport capabilities for First American's five AT&T System 85 PBXs, and data transport for our four IBM 3725 communications controllers and a variety of minicomputers.

We now have an integrated data/voice network with a single point of control for troubleshooting and maintenance.

But things weren't always so organized.

Years ago, each blank had its own network, its own mainframe and operating system, and its own set of applications. We had as many as seven networks at one time.

Reassess DP

With changes in interstate banking laws came the realization that the entire data processing operation must be reassessed. For instance, we decided all the banks would adopt the same operating system (IBM's MVS).

REorganizing the network, however, was not so straightforward. Each bank had taken its own approach to networking. The first attempts at unifying them into a single network made it clear we had our work cut out for us.

To further complicate matters, many circuits had been in place prior to Jan. 1, 1984. After divestiture, tracking down which carrier was responsible for which circuit was a nightmare. Trouble on a circuit could mean three or more calls just to locate the right carrier.

Something had to be done.

In 1986, as a first step in the evolution of our network, all banks were migrated to a centralized network for on-line transaction processing. The network hub was located in Reston along with the host processors. Each bank was connected to the hub by point-to-point voice-grade analog lines or 56-kb/S DDS lines and 56-kb/s Infotron TDMS (time division multiplexers).

Facing New Growth

As first American continued to grow, the network was affected in two ways:

* Much of the growth from a business standpoint occurred through acquisition of other banks. This meant constant pressure for more processing capacity, more network bandwidth, and frequent hardware reconfigurations.

* The competitive nature of the banking industry and its emphasis on customer service resulted in pressure for faster and better ways of doing things. This forced the introduction of new applications, which required more processing and communications capabilities. As more applications, such as cash management and international wire transfers, were processed at the Reston data center, the level of voice traffic between the center and the other banks increased dramatically.

In 1988, the second phase of our network evolution was implemented. As T1 facilities became widely available, the economics of the situation changed to the point where T1 facilities for the required locations were actually less expensive than the number of 56 kb/s DDS lines that would have been needed to support the same level of traffic.

Then we decided to upgrade to T1 facilities using Infotron's Infostream NX T1 networking multiplexers, which (unlike T1 channel banks) let s allocate link bankdwidth in increments as small as 1200 b/s.

This added flexibility lets us efficiently handle any transmission speed or protocol as well as integrate voice and data traffic over the T1 network. The ability to support multiple T1 links in the same piece of equipment greatly reduced the amount of floor space needed in the data center for the hardware.

Flexibility To React

In an industry as competitive as banking, we often find ourselves in a reactive mode. For example, the decision about acquiring another bank is a business decision. It doesn't matter whether the new bank's processing system or communications network is compatible with ours; we have to make it work anyway.

Aside from favorable economics, the most attractive feature of the T1 backbone is that it gives us the flexibility to cope with tht constantly changing environment.

Though it's difficult to say exactly what we'll need in a few years, it's not too early to start thinking about the possibilities technologies like ISDN might offer.
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Title Annotation:First American Data Services
Author:Peltier, Frank; Grubb, Kurt
Publication:Communications News
Date:May 1, 1990
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