AIB, the State’s largest bank, has begun a project to upgrade all of its branches to using computers that run the Linux operating system, siliconrepublic.com has learned.
As part of a renewal of its computing infrastructure, 280 AIB branches in the State, as well as a further 100 throughout Northern Ireland and the UK, will run Linux on its workstations once the project has been completed next year.
At the same time, many of the applications needed at the branch are now being provided to staff via a thin-client approach, where the application runs on a server offsite and it is provided to users through a web browser. For operational reasons, some applications in each branch, primarily those involved in bank-teller functions such as cashing cheques, will remain as thick client – that is, installed and running locally on computers.
Maurice Crowley, programme director for new banking platforms with AIB, explained the project began in Autumn 2003 but the Linux rollout has been under way for the past three months. “This is something we will be working on for the next 12 months or so,” he told siliconrepublic.com. “We’re replacing the infrastructure and the hardware; it’s a fairly major initiative.”
As open source software for which no licence fees are paid, Linux is perceived as being cheaper than alternative operating systems such as Microsoft Windows. However, Crowley said cost savings were only one factor in the bank’s decision to adopt Linux. AIB does not publish the amount of money it expects to save as a result of the project but Crowley confirmed there is a lower total cost of ownership over a seven to 10-year life. “That’s not just because of Linux but also the thin-client approach,” he said, adding that there is still a “significant” Windows user base within the bank.
Crowley pointed out that there were many other benefits to the new infrastructure such as its user-friendliness and faster performance of the computers. “It will help us to improve levels of customer service and it makes it easier for us to get new applications out to the branches and ready for business,” he added. “So far in the branches we’re getting the kind of benefits we thought we would get – namely that customer service levels have improved because the tellers are able to process their needs more quickly so there’s less time spent queuing.”
What makes AIB’s move somewhat unusual is that organisations often install Linux on servers rather than desktops as it is thought to be easier to manage that way. However, Crowley said technical support would not be a problem. “There are quite a few vendors that have signed themselves up for Linux and there are a lot of the bigger players that we can draw on for support,” he said. “We haven’t dragged this off the internet.” Sun Microsystems is the main supplier for AIB’s Linux project.
Another perceived hurdle with Linux is that many non-technical users may be unfamiliar with it, having been more accustomed to Windows. Crowley said the upgrade had been well received by staff members and said the operating system would be transparent to users. “It’s similar to browsing the internet, so there’s a lot of comfort with that kind of approach. They have a set of screens they can navigate through. The only major change is that it is browser based rather than icon based.”
By Gordon Smith