To meet its growing needs for storage and servers, Belgian banking and insurance group Crédit Agricole has turned to Bull, for both hardware and services. Bull’s flexibility and speed in presenting its solutions, based around the Escala server family, played a decisive role in Crédit Agricole’s decision.
Banks are some of the biggest consumers of IT. So when one of them takes over a competitor – as Crédit Agricole recently did in Belgium, with Centea – they need to merge the two IT infrastructures or bring them all together onto one of the existing platforms. In this instance, the bank chose the second option: Centea’s infrastructure, which ran on the same systems as its former parent company KBC, has been migrated to Crédit Agricole’s ITC platform. The key task is to perfectly integrate these critical functions in the shortest possible timescales.
A rapid conversion
In general, Crédit Agricole has grown its installed base of servers structurally, every four or five years, in response to its normal requirements for growth. But this time round, with the acquisition of savings bank Centea, increasing server capacity represents a strategic ITC project, with a high profile within the group.
“An initial study showed that incorporating Centea into the Group was going to quadruple the number of transactions, although there would only be doubling the processing power available and staff numbers would only be growing by 50% at most,” explains Yves Danneels, CIO of Crédit Agricole Belgium. “So we needed to put in place a server infrastructure offering much faster reaction times and much higher processing capacity, as quickly as possible. A really tough challenge!”
A successful proof-of-concept
To satisfy itself that Bull’s mission-critical servers would respond effectively to the new demands, Crédit Agricole insisted on organizing a proof-of-concept. This enabled it to test its own installation of an Escala M7-700 – made available by Bull – and see how it performed on the basis of future needs. Following approximately a month of complex and intensive tests in a critical environment, Crédit Agricole was reassured: the results obtained demonstrated that the bank could confidently cope with the quadrupling of transactions. CIO Yves Danneels had all the guarantees needed to submit the project to the Board for approval.
Today, the bank’s four Bull Escala M7-700 servers are running in a test environment, and are due to go into live production in April 2012. Each of the new Escala M7-700 machines is exceeding expectations in terms of performance, availability, efficiency and virtualization. The modular and scalable systems have been designed for both increased business flexibility and IT efficiency. They bring unprecedented openness and robustness to the bank’s applications.
Consultancy on maintaining the bank’s storage platform
Virtually in parallel to this development, Crédit Agricole Belgium renewed its contracts with EMC, which supplies its VMAX storage platform. Crédit Agricole decided to award Bull the maintenance consultancy contract and everything surround it. As Yves Danneels explains: “For us, it was a logical step to work with a player that could offer us an integral, totally dependable service for our combined server and storage platform”.
An open partnership, and future possibilities
As well as a very well balanced quality/price ratio, Bull’s responsiveness and flexibility convinced Crédit Agricole Belgium to put its trust totally in the French IT firm. “We were able to organize the proof-of-concept very quickly, and that won over Crédit Agricole,” says Saskia Van Uffelen, CEO of Bull Belux. “The flexibility of our organization means we can meet the needs of customers looking for a rapid solution.”
The partnership between Bull and Crédit Agricole already dates back eight years. In 2003, the bank adopted a new Bull Escala architecture, based on the AIX/Power® platform. In the beginning, the servers were Bull Escala PL1650 models, based on Power5 technology. Then in 2009, these were replaced by Bull Escala PL1660R-L servers. The collaboration with Bull is going very well, as Yves Danneels confirms: “We have known each other for a long time, and we communicate with each other very directly, in total transparency. In the future, Bull will still have significant potential business with Crédit Agricole. Every one of our projects is run as an open competition, but we are setting the bar increasingly high. That takes time and resources. But in exchange, the added value is worth the investment: as Bull has proved once again.”
Bull efficiently support its Escala customers, like Crédit Agricole: its specialist teams can call on internal centers of excellence that bring together experts in different areas. Together, they define and implement critical application architectures (such as databases, ERP systems, high-availability systems…).
The Crédit Agricole group consists of five business entities: the mutually owned bank Crédit Agricole and its four subsidiaries, Crédit Agricole Assurances, niche bank Europabank, on-line bank Keytrade and Centea. The Group’s shareholders are the Belgian co-operative banks Lanbokas and Agricaisse (50%) and Crédit Agricole France (50%). Today, the Crédit Agricole group sees itself as a universal provider of banking and insurance services offering an alternative to the major banks.