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Small centralized staff can cover big territory.

When it comes to network management, a small staff can accomplish a lot, even from a central site when the network stretches for hundreds of miles in all directions.

Florida Informanagement Services (FIS), based in Orlando, offers proof that staff size and the lack of field people don't limit what can be accomplished.

Ron Futrell's staff of five not only runs the daily operations of a financial network that covers Florida and stretches up the southeast coast, but in the last year has revamped the network and responded with flying colors after the devastation of Hurricane Andrew.

FIS does financial data processing for more than 130 banks and savings and loans. Until mid-1992, the data network was set up in a star topology, since replaced by a nodal approach.

FIS has nodes, either Unisys CP2000 front end processors or a telco DACS (digital access cross-connect system), at five sites--Boca Raton, Jacksonville, Tampa, Panama City and Fort Myers. From those nodes there are T1 connections back to Orlando. Client institutions are linked to local nodes via 9.6 kb/s modems.

T1s provide far more capacity than FIS needs at this point, but the company has ambitious plans to offer additional processing services to clients as well as LAN-to-LAN connections, frame relay and videoconferencing. Futrell also uses the extra capacity for disaster backup.

"We used to have six separate networks," Futrell recalls. There were automatic teller machine and IBM networks, an item processing network and three networks (1200, 2400 and 9600 baud) for FIS' own DOLLARS network. DOLLARS is FIS' software for the thrift industry.

"When we went to the CP2000, it was an intelligent front-end processor and could go to multiple hosts. It let us do more cost-effective routing of data lines," says Futrell who is Network Services Supervisor, operations division, for FIS.

"It took eight months to get the first node installed. But remember, I did this with a staff that is also my operational staff for day-to-day problems," says Futrell.

"It took four months to get our second node in, and we did a DACS node with that CP2000 in the same process. We refined it so the issue wasn't how long it takes to get data lines in, but coordinating with end users to upgrade their equipment to 9600 baud."

Impressive savings that FIS would have seen with the new network were restrained by a hefty Southern Bell tariff jump--20% in 1991 and 60% in 1992. The move to a digital network has removed that burden.

"We dropped our datacomm costs 20% or 30%. We also absorbed the 80% increase in analog access services costs. We did not pass along any of these costs to our clients," he boasts. "We were able to absorb that and actually reduce network costs. If we could have gotten this implemented faster, we could have shown a major savings, but then we only had five people to implement this network."

The T1 for Boca Raton, for instance, costs $2,000 a month, but that's just a fraction of the cost of the old network.

"I had needed a total of five T1s to drive all those channelized circuits down there. Now with the nodal concept, I can use 56 kb/s to drive the front end processor, and polling is done out of the front end processor.

"Eventually we will look at frame relay or SMDS to see if we can get rid of the T1s altogether."

Much of the new network was in place last summer but not yet on-line. Nature, in the form of Hurricane Andrew, forced the issue.

"With the hurricane, we scrambled a bit," says Futrell. "Our disaster recovery plan was on the drawing board, but the day after the hurricane our (south Florida) node was down. There was no power.

"We soon had all of our clients and all the circuits back in operation, thanks to the expertise of my staff and quick thinking. We tested the T1 and got it running, then went to the DACS and cross-connected all the circuits over to the T1 coming to us. We totally eliminated that node and brought all the traffic back to Orlando, where we had spare cards and DSUs.

"We went to our disaster recovery site, pulled in two CP2000s and changed their ID, so our machines thought they were talking to them right here. Within a day and a half everyone was up and running."

FIS uses strictly Codex datacomm equipment. It also uses Data Switch's Remote Monitor Unit (RMU) and Monolith-Plus communications matrix switches. With the RMU, circuit information is transmitted in real time from remote nodes to the central site, where a technician can analyze live data to determine the sources of problems.

That allows Futrell to concentrate his technical staff in Orlando. He doesn't want them spread across distant sites.

Digital service brought an end to some of the technicians' headaches, Futrell adds.

"With analog, we ended up trouble-shooting things that would come and go. Bleedover, chirping on the network, fade, all those things inherent to analog were very intermittent in nature.

"We were one of the first to implement digital using the secondary channel. That allows us to run real-time network management of the DSUs without interrupting data."
COPYRIGHT 1993 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Network Management; Florida Informanagement Services
Author:Tanzillo, Kevin
Publication:Communications News
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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