Internet bankers have to pay for 100% uptime, says AMP

If users want 100% reliability from their AMP Internet banking system they would probably have to pay for it, the bank is saying in the wake of a string of failures.

If users want 100% reliability from their AMP Internet banking system they would probably have to pay for it, says the bank’s e-commerce manager for Australia and New Zealand, Tim Abbott. The service is currently free.

AMP Banking has been steadily remedying various faults as they have been occurring on its Internet banking site, and the incidence of failures and poor performance is decreasing, Abbott says. Causes of failure have been disparate, “sometimes a technical problem with a server, sometimes a line has gone down,” he says. On occasions the system has been unavailable for between two and three hours, he confirms, substantiating reports Computerworld heard last week.(See story.)

“We have looked on these outages as a learning thing,” Abbott says, swiftly adding that the bank is not deliberately testing its system on live customers. AMP obviously did a lot of testing before it put the system out, he says. “Unfortunately, we are relying on components some of which are supplied by third parties like telcos, and sometimes they fail.”

Providing bulletproof Web servers, is a matter of “trade-offs”, Abbott says. Because the bank provides for a slightly sub-optimal level of reliability, it can offer the service free. Full reliability would probably be reflected in a cost to the user.

“The good news is that these incidents have made us get our act together,” notably in improving server redundancy, he says. While the Internet banking system had been running from only two servers, it is now being equipped with four servers and two “hot” backups.

“Currently, there is one prime server and if that fails it takes some time to bring the backup on,” Abbott says. AMP is reconfiguring so as to have two servers working in parallel at the front end. This will mean an extra level of session management complexity, to ensure transactions commenced in one server are completed there, despite any break in the user’s connection. Load balancing measures will also have to be introduced.

Abbott denies reports of deliberate two- to three-hour outages for maintenance and upgrade. “I think [bank sources] may have been confused there,” he says. “We bring systems down for maintenance a maximum of one hour a month, and that’s specified in the terms given to customers. And it’s usually done about two in the morning, so almost no one will be affected.”

The amount of traffic on the bank’s publishing site during the Olympic torch rally did affect the Internet banking part of the site, he confirms, since access to both was through the same home page. “So unless you bookmarked the Internet banking page, you would have experienced that slowness and might have concluded Internet banking was out.” At no time did the outages impact security, he says.

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