Mission Critical: AIB Capital Markets

13 Feb 2009

A showcase for organisations that have successfully managed change.

The Business
The company comprises AIB Group’s global treasury, investment banking and corporate-banking businesses. The division operates worldwide across offices in Ireland, the UK, USA, Canada, Europe and Asia Pacific, and through a range of specialist business units and subsidiary companies. Its services include trade finance, international payments, stockbroking, asset management and corporate finance.

The Challenge
AIB Capital Markets began looking closely at its IT costs in January of this year. The firm is no stranger to the concept of virtualisation; it has more than 100 servers, running a range of software from Adobe Acrobat to a dealing-room application, with functionality based on the profile of the user. The bank had been putting as many of these systems as it could in a virtualised environment to reduce its hardware, and began considering whether its desktops – close to 2,200 units at the last count – would benefit from a similar approach.

The Strategy
AIB took the decision to focus on desktop virtualisation at a group level. An internal team was formed from the company’s Capital Markets and Retail divisions, as well as the bank’s Polish operation.

As part of its intelligence-gathering, the group met other firms, including Morgan Stanley, Standard Life and Credit Suisse, to learn from their experiences with desktop virtualisation. “Our whole infrastructure is based on hard decisions, cost benefit and product comparison. We are focused on delivering the best-possible service to our customers – internal or external,” says John Harrington, WES & AD manager with AIB Capital Markets.

A proof-of-concept phase lasted three months, starting in April of this year. By the time the desktop virtualisation software was presented to AIB’s group chief technology officer, it was fully functioning and the team was able to show multiple versions of the same application running on a single desktop.

The Solution
The bank has been a customer of Citrix for 10 years, and rolled out Citrix XenApp (formerly known as Citrix Presentation Server), along with Citrix XenDesktop to handle the desktop virtualisation and to deliver applications to users within the company. “Citrix’s solution has worked out as being the fastest to deploy in terms of starting cost. We were very satisfied,” says Harrington.

Straightaway, the virtual desktop approach eliminated problems such as conflicting software DLLs (dynamic link libraries), and the hassle associated with keeping ‘thick client’ PCs up to date with software patches. “We have a single desktop that can be customised, depending on the profile of the user,” Harrington explains.

Fraser Kyne, business development manager with Citrix UK, points out that whereas server virtualisation is invisible to the end user, the same can’t be said for desktop virtualisation. However, it’s still possible to let users personalise their desktops while IT retains control and defines permissions. “The user can view the information, but they don’t possess it. You have none of the risk of data being in an insecure location,” says Kyne. He says desktop virtualisation is analogous to allowing terminal services on a mainframe. “You can have a real-time management experience and a very good user experience.”

The Benefits
AIB Capital Markets has seen operational, tactical and strategic benefits from deploying the Citrix Xen technology, according to Harrington. For example, if the bank opens a new office, or if it consolidates existing ones, it can deploy desktop systems at any new location extremely quickly. “With Citrix WAN scaler, this could be pushed right out to Dundalk, Dublin or the middle of the US – it doesn’t matter where you are,” says Harrington.

Removing data from thick client PCs addresses the problem of data loss, which is a very hot topic within banking circles. “With one phone call, the connection is gone; there’s no data stored locally,” Harrington points out. “Compliance costs an awful lot of money … and the cost has gone up astronomically. We cannot afford not to be secure.”

This delivery model of IT is helping the bank to reduce costs. Having a more unified desktop saves money on SAN storage, and it allows the IT team to sweat its existing workstation assets even further.

Close to 80pc of the desktop systems in AIB Capital Markets are over three years old. “We can realistically look at keeping them going for another year,” says Enda Quain, head of TSS infrastructure at AIB Capital Markets. The Citrix software is platform-neutral, so it can deliver applications to a range of different thin client devices, further reducing the cost overhead associated with maintaining IT hardware.

There are also benefits from a disaster-recovery point of view. “There is less administration and less work needed to go to a disaster-recovery site,” says Quain. “This is about making sure our services are available. We have a state-of-the-art data centre and a multimillion euro SAN and very expensive software, but if you can’t get to it from the desktop, it’s no good.”

The Verdict
According to Kyne, the Citrix Xen suite allows a high level of management, so that the applications each user sees are set according to their role within the company and their permissions. “What you’re looking at is the right desktop for the right user at the right time,” he says. “You can police that connection so it doesn’t offer a level of access you’re not happy with.” He calls it a ‘desktop as a service’ concept. “You commoditise the desktop in the same way that you do with applications. You improve service, improve security and reduce costs. The benefit from a business perspective is a centralised desktop that is very rapidly delivered to end users.”

Harrington says the high availability offered by desktop virtualisation is essential in a financial services environment. “There’s an awful lot of money going through our infrastructure every day – a scary amount. Making sure those [dealing] applications are available to people is very important. If somebody’s PC goes down, they can go back to where they were to complete a deal. That’s worth its weight in gold.”

Pictured: John Harrington, AIB Capital Markets; James Stevenson and Niall Gilmore, Citrix Systems; Enda Quain and Brian Fortune, AIB Capital Markets