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Bank scores with server virtualization

Gunjan Trivedi | Dec. 17, 2008
ICICI Bank's IT team, led by Vohra, has used virtualization to arrest an electronic infrastructure spill-over at its datacenters.

BANGALORE, 16 DECEMBER 2008 - They say old habits die hard. It's a adage that's certainly true for ICICI Bank's senior GM and the Group CTO, Pravir Vohra. As a man who was part of the team that popularized online banking and helped create a new revenue stream for ICICI Bank, Vohra is already known as an IT leader who can make a difference. He's also celebrated as a CIO who not only leverages new concepts and technologies to create -mover advantages for his organization, but also adopts solutions at such an unprecedented rate and scale that it advances his bank beyond the reach of its peers. Even solution and service providers have found it hard to keep up.

About four years ago, for instance, ICICI Bank was one of the first, at the scale it operates, to successfully leverage enterprise-wide data warehousing and business intelligence. And now the second largest bank in the country has again scored another first with technology, this time with server virtualization.

ICICI Bank's IT team, led by Vohra, has used virtualization to arrest an electronic infrastructure spill-over at its datacenters. They consolidated 230 physical servers to just five, running a little under 650 applications on a virtualized environment. It required them to develop the unparalleled technology ability to run 60 virtual machines on a single server but it saved the bank over a crore annually in power, cooling and space.

The result? While the server count of its closest competitors runs into four or five digits, ICICI Bank services its customers with just a fraction of that. That's incredibly low for a bank of its size with assets amounting to Rs 384,970 crore (US$7899), and with 1,400 branches and 4,530 ATMs across the country.

Big, Real Big

The business problem ICICI Bank forever grapples with lies at the core of its standardized Windows NT architecture. Any application typically requires a Web tier, an application tier and a database tier -- it's a necessary evil. "Now if somebody asks for a development environment, add three more. Move onto a testing environment, add another three servers. So even if you are deploying something as simple as a library management system, you have to take nine servers into account. At ICICI Bank, we run about 650 applications. Go figure," says Vohra.

Running that many application has a domino effect. It demands an ongoing investment in servers, power consumption, rack space, switching gear because as all these servers need to be interconnected to storage and networking sub-systems for management, availability and recoverability. "We were actually worried that we were ending in a server or an electronic sprawl," he says. "It is a kind of an exponential problem. We were not utilizing our servers properly but had to keep them because some development or some testing could happen. Let's say that without virtualization, I'll provide a server to run a library, holiday home and collection applications on the same server. But if you run a user acceptance testing (UAT) environment at the same time, you'll have problems. The world has found a way of consuming the manufacturing it manufactures," Vohra says.


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