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Fri 29 Sep 2006 08:00 PM

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Arab Bank completes data centre projects

IBM & EMC tech will prepare ground for Islamic banking

Arab Bank has completed a multimillion dollar project to consolidate its GCC data centres onto two sites using technology from IBM and EMC. The move will help to support its planned introduction of Islamic banking applications and e-cheque clearing technology, executives at the bank said this month.

The bank has created two data centres in Dubai to serve the needs of its branches across the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Yemen, in a two-year project costing around US$5million.

One of the data centres is run by eHosting DataFort at its headquarters in Dubai Internet City (DIC) and will be used as a disaster recovery centre, while the main data centre is based at the bank’s headquarters in Deira.

Arab Bank deployed an Equation core banking solution from Misys, a mainframe computer and servers from IBM and two EMC DMX storage systems to create a real-time data mirror- ing infrastructure for key applications and data at both sites.

The UAE banks were migrated to the data centre in November 2004, Qatar in December 2004, Bahrain in February 2005 and Yemen in May this year.

The next step is to upgrade the bank’s EMC storage systems in preparation for the introduction of Islamic banking applications and e-cheque clearing technology.

Arab Bank set up Arab Gulf-Tech, an IT services company, to carry out the project, and to provide IT services to other financial institutions in the region.

Ghassan Nimer, managing director of Arab Gulf-Tech, said Arab Bank was in negotiations with EMC to provide an extra one Tbyte of storage space — at a cost of up to US$300,000.

Nimer and his team are now working on the introduction of Islamic banking services at the bank —the testing of which it plansto have completed by the first quarter of next year.

It also plans to introduce electronic cheque clearing systems from ProgressSoft — in accordance with a mandate by the UAE Central Bank requiring all UAE financial institutions to do this.

Nimer said that creating the infrastructure to support this technology has been a complex task. “We required new servers, new applications, new software and integration software as well as communication with the central bank to be established. Also we have to change some of our internal processes within the bank to process these cheques.”

“We are in the final stages now. We have ordered the servers and scanners and we are finalising our contract with ProgressSoft,” he added.

Nimer said a key benefit of having consolidated data centres for its GCC branches was that it was much easier to manage the systems.

“Managing two main data centres is far better than managing eight data centres for four countries,” he explained. “It makes it a lot easier to deploy new applications and services as these are now deployedin just one location — all we need to do is train the users in the other countries.”

As a result, Arab Bank now enjoyed a far better utilisation of resources, Nimer claimed, whether this was in hardware, staff or expertise. “All the data centre staff are in one location where they can provide better services than having the same people scattered between four countries,” he said.

He admitted however, that the migration of the bank branches was a complex process — with the company encountering “communication problems” when it came to the migration of the Yemen branches.

“It was very complex and it required a lot of time, a lot of planning and reviewing of the process. Migrating the whole branches in each country during weekends from one infrastructure to another — it requires a lot of planning.”

“We postponed Yemen until 2006 because there were communication infrastructure, availability and costing issues. The communications lines didn’t come up easily,” Nimer said.

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