One of four major banks in Australia, National Australia Bank (NAB) operates in New Zealand, Asia, the United States, and the United Kingdom as well as Australia. In addition to personal banking, NAB is Australia's premier business banking service provider. Its services include wealth management, financial services, and others ranging from insurance to stock trading.
With some 25 million people dispersed across a geography not much smaller than the continental United States, Australia has many populated areas that qualify as "remote." So the wide area network of a nationwide business such as retail banking is very wide indeed. Altogether, the bank's WAN connects its two data centers in Melbourne, to its main offices located in the capital cities, business banking centres located within capital and regional centres, more than 800 retail stores distributed throughout the country, and a rapidly growing number of self-service retail banking kiosks situated in shopping center concourses.
In 2010, NAB started upgrading its branch network connections to fiber optic, using 3G wireless technology for redundancy in locations where disparate cable paths could not be provided. The goal was not just to improve existing services but also to provide the network capacity to better centralize network operations. But, while the upgraded network would provide stability and capacity, the implementation of new services would require additional site visits, a major expense for such a geographically dispersed operation.
The fiber upgrade and wireless deployment was no small undertaking. "We had to send crews to every store, which was labor-intensive and involved a great deal of travel," says John Vanderleest, head of network services at NAB. "In addition, all the work had to be done at night, so it wouldn't disrupt operations during business hours."
That got Vanderleest and Gary Pickering, NAB's LAN and WAN manager, thinking about what more the crews could do while they were at each branch: Could the company get more value out of the investment that it was making in fiber and wireless by upgrading the routers in the stores at the same time?
"Technically, the G1 routers we had in place weren't at the end of their useful life," says Vanderleest. "So there was no pressing need to replace them."
But he and his colleagues took a longer view. The strategic plan for NAB's wide area applications services (WAAS) is a services-ondemand model. The services will include not only unified communications management but also teleconferencing and video conferencing, accelerated service delivery, broader use of wireless, and more, all centrally provisioned and managed.
Even so, the business case for those "upgrades of the future" would have to be made, in the future, on their own merits. If NAB was going to replace hundreds of perfectly serviceable branch routers in tandem with its network connectivity improvement project, the cost would have to be justified on today's business needs, not on what might be required in the future.
"The G2s are more powerful than what we need in most stores, at least in the near term. But we knew they would set us up to implement the services we're planning for the future. And they enable us to provision those services centrally and remotely to our hundreds of stores."
- John Vanderleest, Head of Network Services, National Australia Bank
"It became a financial exercise," says Vanderleest. "The G1 routers were nearing the end their current lease, so Gary and Tony Iacobucci, our Cisco account manager, figured out what it would cost to trade in our existing fleet of G1 routers for Cisco's second-generation ISRs."
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