Credit union installs wireless SAN link

In one of the first projects of its kind, a Manitboa-based credit union this month said it has set up a wireless IP network to replicate banking data and other information from its primary data centre to a disaster recovery site dozens of kilometres miles away.

Steinbach Credit Union Inc. in Steinbach, Manitoba, said it’s saving $70,000 per month by using the wireless setup instead of a leased virtual private network. Steinbach went live in February with the wireless link between the data center at its headquarters and a backup facility at a branch office in Winnipeg.

The credit union is using the wireless wide-area network to replicate customer data stored in Microsoft SQL Server databases, as well as loan origination information, other banking data, e-mail messages and streaming video from surveillance cameras. About 600GB of data is continually being updated between the two facilities.

Denis Van Dale, network administrator at Steinbach, said the company built three radio towers that are each more than 100 feet tall, bought four transmitters and installed new storage-area network (SAN) equipment for a total of about $700,000. It also spent an unspecified amount of money on things such as planning and consulting services, he added. Steinbach expects to get a return on its investment within 20 months, Van Dale said.

The wireless connection offers full-duplex bandwidth of 100M bit/sec., according to Van Dale. About 65M bit/sec. is reserved for data replication, and the remainder is used for Internet connectivity, other data transfers and remote data sharing.

Steinbach installed multiprotocol switches made by Nishan Systems Inc. in San Jose to wrap Fibre Channel data packets in IP headers for transmission over the wireless network. Ethernet switches from Cisco Systems Inc. convert the data transmissions between 100M bit/sec. speeds and the Gigabit Ethernet rates used inside the two data centres.

Proxim Corp. in Sunnyvale, Calif., provided the wireless WAN bridging technology, which includes built-in data-scrambling capabilities for encrypting information. The switches and bridges link two disk arrays made by XIOtech Corp. in Eden Prairie, Minn. Steinbach also uses XIOtech’s data replication software.

Robert Gray, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass., said it’s extremely rare for companies to use wireless links for data backup and disaster recovery purposes. Steinbach’s installation shows how flexible IP networks can be, he said. But, Gray added, such setups “could face interference, degradation over distance or objects such as buildings and people in the path.”

Earlier this month, Steinbach ran into transmission difficulties when a radio station at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg began broadcasting on the frequency used by the credit union’s WAN. That added to the WAN’s data stream, sending bit levels above certain thresholds and causing network disconnects, Van Dale said. Proxim resolved the issue by adjusting Steinbach’s frequency.