Suncorp bites NT bullet, drops HP

Thousands of Windows NT servers and clients will be upgraded over the next 18 months, as national banking and financial institution Suncorp aims for more agility with its infrastructure.

Paul Cameron, Suncorp's general manager of IT infrastructure, said the bank had completed a "very well" executed integration project with GIO acquiring it "a few years ago".

Despite this, most of Suncorp's server and desktop infrastructure is still based on the now-unsupported Windows NT platform, which the company is keen to leave behind.

"We have a huge amount of NT on the backend for domain controllers and name servers," Cameron said, adding that over the next 18 months we will remove all NT systems which are also in branches and on desktops. "The migration has been in planning for a while and started [aggressively] three months ago. It's now moving ahead quickly."

Suncorp has about 2000 servers and 9000 desktops and the move from NT will be to Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP.

In the NT legacy issue - where many businesses are now using unsupported technology - Cameron blames organizations, not Microsoft, "for not having investment plans".

"If you leave things to rot, you will suffer the consequences," he said. "It's the organization leaving it to last. We will be able to upgrade [in the future] without the pain we are currently suffering. Microsoft has been telling us for years that support will end."

NT is not the only unsupported platform at Suncorp which still has Windows 95 kicking around.

Cameron said that, as the bank's infrastructure management lifecycle project matures, it will ensure it always has "supportable software and functional hardware" to reduce the amount of significant capital expenditure every few years to a more predictable outlay.

"We made a decision not to go down the Linux path, and I'm pretty comfortable with that," he said. "But I'm also very comfortable having Linux-based appliances in our network."

The consolidation project will also extend to Suncorp's mid-range Unix systems where HP is set to be ousted in favour of IBM.

"Our mid-range strategy is to exit HP," Cameron said. "It's good technology, but we will consolidate and virtualize, and with those principles we don't need three separate systems."

Suncorp will standardize on IBM's Power-based mid-range systems for all future applications deemed to require a Unix platform, and use VMware's virtualization technology in the Wintel arena.

In the mainframe space the bank has an HP NonStop, formerly Tandem, machine for the ATM network, and two IBM mainframes for core banking and insurance.

"The Tandem is ultra-reliable and very solid [and] we are communicating well with HP about a migration path for the future," Cameron said, adding the mainframe is not a legacy, just a different computing platform.

Other IT initiatives at the bank include the move to VoIP over the next four years and the testing of OpenOffice.org and StarOffice 8.0 for office productivity.

Another casualty of Suncorp's IT overhaul is Lotus Notes which will be replaced with Microsoft Outlook.

HP Australia's business critical systems manager Steve Williamson said Suncorp's decision to migrate off "a few low-end" HP systems could be related to applications, skill sets, timing, and a incumbent vendors.

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