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Outsourcing disaster recovery does the trick for Lakshmi Vilas Bank

Jasmine Desai, Principal Correspondent

Lakshmi Vilas Bank, an established player in the Indian banking industry, faced a challenge when the recent Reserve Bank of India (RBI) guidelines made it mandatory for banks to have their own disaster recovery (DR) sites. Founded in 1926, the bank is spread over 16 states and Pondicherry. The bank's business crossed Rs 12,606 crore as on March 31, 2009. Rather than have its own DR site, Lakshmi Vilas Bank thought it

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would be worthwhile to opt for outsourcing disaster recovery. "An owned DR site was quite expensive. Also, there's always hassle of tackling multiple vendors, as perfect co-ordination among them never happens," says B Murali Nair, the CTO of Lakshmi Vilas Bank. The move paid rich dividends.

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Today, Lakshmi Vilas Bank's outsourced disaster recovery site is based out of Bangalore. Selection of this location was based on the criteria that the outsourced disaster recovery site has to be in a different seismic zone. The lock-in was between Hyderabad and Bangalore. However, the latter was preferable, as it was not far from the primary site (which is in Chennai). The outsourced disaster recovery site's infrastructure only came into place, once the primary site was up and running.

Lakshmi Vilas Bank evaluated several vendors for its outsourced disaster recovery site. Its main concern was the availability of infrastructure at the outsourced DR service provider's end. "We were concerned about the uptime that they could commit. Also, the type of engineering and provided air conditioning was a priority," says Nair. After evaluation, Reliance and Tata VSNL were short-listed. Reliance Data Center won, based on the pricing.

Outsourcing a disaster recovery site needs care while drafting service level agreements (SLA), especially when it comes to defining the downtime. "First of all, the challenge was to get all the servers in one place, as we were given two different locations. This adds to operational costs," says Nair.

Lakshmi Vilas Bank's move for outsourcing disaster recovery also meant relocation of other clients at the Reliance Data Center, so that the bank could be provided with the required space. Another glitch while outsourcing disaster recovery was the network infrastructure, as Lakshmi Vilas Bank operates entirely on BSNL's network. Getting their end-point into the Reliance data center was a tricky matter, as Reliance also is a telecom service provider. In-premise hardware installation was also a challenge.

Lakshmi Vilas Bank has all its critical applications like its core banking system (CBS), real-time gross settlement (RTGS) on its outsourced DR site. It has replicated 35 servers from the primary site (on which critical applications reside). IBM P6 Series servers make up most of the hardware. The primary site has around 100 servers (along with non-critical servers). Today, the bank has attained a recovery time objective (RTO) of three hours and a recovery point objective (RPO) of 15 minutes.

Outsourcing disaster recovery has its own vexations, as Lakshmi Vilas Bank explains. On the power supply side, the infrastructure is supposed to have dual power supply as per DR best practices, which is not available in Bangalore as of now. At the moment, the bank's DR setup relies on UPS as well as the main power. UPS provides redundancy, and later the generator takes over.

Business continuity plan is a part of the outsourcing disaster recovery initiative approved by Lakshmi Vilas Bank's board. It includes having a DR team in place — a combination of IT and administration.

There is lot of action around Lakshmi Vilas Bank's future plans for the outsourced DR site. "We are planning an automatic switch over system for the DR site. Earlier, one had to manually switch over if something happened. However, with that kind of an arrangement, it's really difficult to maintain RTO and RPO," says Nair.