First National Bank of Omaha throws Sun out for Linux

First National Bank of Omaha said this week that it's nearing completion of a complete changeout of its distributed server infrastructure for a mainframe and blade-server architecture based on Linux. While only 80% complete, the move is already expected to save the company US$1.8 million this year in operating expenses and another US$9.6 million through 2011.

The bank expects to complete the project by April and said much of the savings will come from a reduction in the number of systems engineers from 24 to eight.

Kenneth Kucera, division head of the Omaha-based bank's enterprise technology services, said he had been weighed down with the costs of managing nearly 600 servers, including 30 Sun Solaris boxes, running multiple operating systems. In order to manage a growing infrastructure, the bank was adding network and server staff at the rate of 30% per year to keep up with necessary administrative tasks.

First National Bank chose an IBM zSeries mainframe for its processing hub, along with 70 IBM BladeCenter servers and IBM's high-end Enterprise Storage Server and Hitachi Data Systems' midrange Thunder storage array. Kucera said he was able to choose a tiered heterogeneous storage-area network (SAN) architecture because he is using IBM's SAN Volume Controller virtualization software. That software creates an abstraction layer between arrays, giving him a single storage management interface.

Kucera said he would have considered Sun Microsystems Inc. products had they been available. But when he began hunting for a way to consolidate his infrastructure in 2003, Sun had nothing to offer in the way of blade servers or Linux. "They were late to the game," he said.

Sun officials didn't respond to requests for comment.

First National Bank, a bank-holding company with more than $16 billion in managed assets, is also running IBM's WebSphere application server, portal and business integrator; IBM DB2 Universal Database, IBM Tivoli, IBM Rational and IBM Lotus Instant Messaging software; and IBM ThinkVantage desktops and laptops.

Kucera said the IBM eServer zSeries 990 will be used to monitor and maintain key banking operations that were previously supported by Sun Solaris servers. The 70 IBM eServer BladeCenter servers will support Web-based banking and office applications that had previously run on 560 Wintel servers.

"Linux gives me the option to scale up, down or across platforms -- mainframe, midrange, PC desktop. And, it's more cost-effective," Kucera said.

For example, it's impossible today to run Microsoft Windows on a mainframe, he said. But Kucera can run 60 virtual Web servers on the IBM mainframe using SUSE Linux.

"As a result of consolidation, we only have to maintain a handful of servers instead of nearly 600, making the task much less complex and expensive," he said. Fewer servers also means fewer network connections to maintain, which helps bolster network security at a lower cost.

IBM is also providing Kucera with its capacity on-demand features for computing resources when the bank needs additional capacity. That arrangement allows the bank to rent computing resources whenever they are needed simply by expanding the number of processors available in currently installed zSeries servers for as little as a day at a time.

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