Ensuring high availability works for today's technology

By : Nav Kullar

January 24, 2019 01:08 PM

What must businesses do to ensure their high availability solutions are fit for the modern era?


The need for high availability in banking systems is clear, and has become even more of a priority in a more digitally-focused environment where a 24/7 service and instant payments are a minimum requirement rather than an added bonus.


But in order to achieve success in this area, banks must adapt their systems to ensure they are able to cope with the huge changes in technology that have taken place in recent years. While Non-Stop may still be a solid foundation, many key applications that use it have not kept up.


Therefore, it pays to look into tools that go beyond Non-Stop. But how should businesses go about this process? As well as looking at solutions that can provide a more modern solution, banks must consider how they implement these systems.


The key drivers for change


One of the biggest factors that is driving the need for change is the emergence of the cloud as a standard technology in the banking sector. Previously, financial services firms have been wary of these solutions, with security and control concerns limiting adoption.


However, the reality of the technology has now reached a point where these worries have been proven to be unfounded, and banks are investing in cloud with much greater confidence. Cloud offers significant advantages in terms of cost-effectiveness, scalability and flexibility, achievable primarily through open systems and platforms.


Changing standards also drive the need for updated technology. There have been major developments surrounding message structure and formats, such as ISO 20022, that have replaced previous standards regarding card and electronic payments.


Payment systems installed before the advent of ISO 20022 are not designed to generate and insert these new message formats into their workflow. What's more, while ISO 20022 is a significant change factor by itself, it is also indicative of a more general trend towards object-oriented architecture, open standards, and the need to integrate distributed software components.


The key elements needed for effective solutions


In order to meet the demands of today's customers, there are two essential factors that every solution must have: resilience and flexibility. Fortunately, there are a range of solutions out there that have been developed with these priorities in mind and, in a world where stringent demands for scalability and availability are issues for every business, not just the financial sector, vendors have been responding to these needs.


There are three elements of any strong solution to ensure high availability without compromising on flexibility or useability. These include application clustering, database clustering, and replication.


However, it is important to understand that different deployments will require different clustering solutions, and there's no one-size-fits-all approach. Final configurations will  depend on the particular requirements and resources of the banks.


The options for achieving high availability


There are a range of options for achieving a successful high availability environment  in payments systems, with cloud-based deployments an increasingly common option. Financial institutions can also take advantage of open-source technology, with databases such as Cassandra being very useful within high-availability deployments.


This technology has been designed to mitigate against risks such as hardware failure by replicating data within a data center across a number of server nodes. This means that if a node is lost, the data still exists within the remaining nodes and so can be redistributed amongst the remaining nodes to give maximum availability.


A key advantage of distributed, cloud-based systems is that they do not lock users into proprietary hardware and operating systems. They are vendor-neutral, use standard components, and rely on common IT knowledge and skills, including Java and object-oriented design, so are much easier and cost-effective to deploy and maintain.


Of course, no migration to a new system is without its risks, but will careful planning and a clear roadmap, these dangers can be minimized. An effective process should spell out how the bank creates temporary links between existing solutions and newer replacements, as well as detailing factors such as how a migration step can be reversed quickly and without affecting availability if it proves to not function as planned.


Nav Kullar

Payments Marketing Manager

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Nav is a marketing manager for Payments at NCR and is based in the UK. She is responsible for the marketing of NCR Payment solutions, with a specific focus on the transaction processing platform Authentic. Nav has over 15 years of experience in the payments business with previous marketing roles at Visa and Elavon.