Visa customers reap benefits of IP network

A home-built expanded payment-processing network with a networked storage infrastructure based on Internet Protocol gives Visa customers convenient access to their funds through the Internet

As chief technology officer at Visa US, which handles 35 billion online transactions annually, Scott Thompson is pummeled with pitches about new networked storage technology that promises to reduce workload and bring a higher return on investment.

Thompson has a simple rule of thumb: "There just isn't anything we can buy off the shelf to fit Visa's needs."

Last fall, Visa launched its home-built expanded payment-processing network, Direct Exchange, which serves 14,000 US financial institutions and their cardholders. Thompson chose a networked storage infrastructure based on Internet Protocol, allowing banks to give their customers access to their funds anytime, anywhere, with any device through the Internet.

In a matter of months, Direct Exchange, which connects to Visa's original payment network, VisaNet, has grown into the largest private financial payment network in the world. By the time Visa connects all of its 14,000 member banks to Direct Exchange in 2004, it will be handling more than US$1 trillion in transactions annually, Thompson said.

Increased Capacity

William Hurley, an analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston, said the technology Visa is using is significant to the banking industry because it addresses the universal problem of capturing a high number of transactions for processing and storing. "If they're fully doing it over an IP network, they're definitely way ahead of the crowd in the financial community," Hurley said.

Direct Exchange has enabled Visa to increase its processing capacity from 4,000 transactions per second to 10,000 per second over its IP network. The average response time to a cardholder's request is 2 seconds, according to Thompson.

When a cardholder makes a purchase on the Internet, the information goes through two synchronized data-processing centers, one in McLean, Va., and one in San Mateo, Calif. Linking those centers in near real time has Thompson and his team "load-balancing all day long between the two."

Not only is the mirroring technique good for disaster recovery, cutting restoration time from 5 minutes to a split second, but it also ensures that Visa cardholders' information is always current. This helps cut down on fraud, since Visa can quickly notify banks when it suspects theft.

So far, network downtime has been zero, said Thompson.

He said he attributes much of the success to "meticulous, deliberate planning" and having the Rolls Royce of hardware, software and connectivity devices. Visa's payment processing network is powered by EMC 's Enterprise Storage Network, which includes Symmetrix storage arrays, Connectrix switches and Sun Solaris servers. The network also uses Oracle databases and routers from Cisco.

"That's one of the biggest fears: making sure the customer is confident that Visa's network is safe and there's no fraud involved," said Phil Faulkner, EMC's financial services group manager. "That's a big return on investment."

Backup time at the data center was also reduced from between 10 and 15 minutes to 2 to 3 seconds using the IP network - a further return on investment of $2 million to $3 million dollars per backup cycle, Faulkner said.

Thompson insisted that he doesn't "attempt to go way off the edge," in terms of the newest, most leading-edge technology. "We pick tools and technology that works today," he said, "and that's why it works in our system."

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