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Interswitch delivers 100% uptime for key payment services with F5 platform

The Nigerian electronic payments company Interswitch replaced its existing load balancers with F5’s application delivery control platform primarily to improve the scalability of its IT infrastructure.  However, this switch to F5 also accelerated applications by 30% and led to 100% uptime for key payment services.  

Applications are 30% faster. This means we can successfully process a lot more transactions. Damilola Akinsiku, Application Delivery Engineer, Interswitch

Business Challenges

Today, Interswitch is an integrated payments company providing transaction switching and payment processing services to private organisations and government with active operations across West and East Africa.

The organisation was originally established to connect all banks in Nigeria, thereby facilitating faster inter-bank financial transactions.  Yet, as it evolved, it started to offer a wealth of additional services, enabling people to make electronic payments to government and businesses from ATMs, kiosks, bank branches, mobile devices, smart phones and the Internet.  “We began to build more and more products, which meant that we needed to scale up our infrastructure to support these new applications,” says Babafemi Ogungbamila, the CIO of Interswitch. 

Having high application availability is exceptionally important for the company, which trades 24 hours a day, every day of the year.  Equally, Interswitch has to deliver fast application speeds, to ensure that its customers have the best experience when making electronic payments, whether they are using a home computer, smart phone, ATM or other channels.  “We lose goodwill and revenue for every second of downtime,” advises Ogungbamila.  “So, we have to do application delivery right.”

In order to improve uptime and application speed, Interswitch initially deployed Apache as a load balancer in its IT infrastructure to serve all its applications.  However, while the six to ten instances deployed added network stability, they offered limited scalability – and this was a major concern for this dynamic organisation.  The IT team had reservations that these deployed instances might not be able to handle increased traffic, nor keep pace with the ambitions of the business.

The functionality of the Apache servers as deployed was also limited to pure load balancing.  This was not an immediate problem, but it was nevertheless perceived as a drawback for the future.  Ogungbamila explains: “Our existing systems were doing the job, but we felt that they could be optimised.”  

Now our applications easily achieve 100% uptime. Babafemi Ogungbamila, CIO, Interswitch

Solution

When Interswitch discovered the F5 application delivery control platform, it identified that this alternative solution would scale much more effectively than its existing load balancers and therefore support business growth seamlessly. 

Dedicated teams conducted extensive testing and realised that the F5 platform also offered far more capabilities than initially anticipated.  “Over time, we began to see that F5 is not only a load balancer; it enables us to do lots of other interesting things around managing our applications,” Ogungbamila explains.  “We found that we could consolidate all our application delivery requirements in a single platform.”

Interswitch installed F5 products to underpin all of its public-facing electronic payment/collection applications.  With support from F5, Interswitch built a single, integrated platform comprising four F5 BIG-IP 4000 units, two BIG-IP 3200 units and two BIG-IP 2000, together with the F5 modules Local Traffic Manager (LTM), Global Traffic Manager (GTM) with Link Controller and Application Security Manager (ASM).  These devices are currently spread across two datacentres.

Benefits

Interswitch initially selected F5 in order to achieve greater scalability, but the company has actually gained infinitely more than just this.  The F5 platform has proven its worth, delivering a host of other business advantages including significantly better application availability, 30% faster applications, up to 80% data compression and other cost savings. 

100% uptime

High application availability is paramount for Interswitch, and the F5 platform has boosted the company’s ability to deliver uninterrupted services for customers.  “Now we have applications with 100% uptime,” reports Ogungbamila.  “Application availability across our entire infrastructure has increased significantly.”

This high uptime stems in part from the overall robustness and reliability of the F5 platform, and in part from its advanced functionality.  For example, the F5 platform allows Interswitch to perform rolling starts for upgrades across all its 300+ servers and achieve full network upgrades with no downtime. 

30% faster performance

Since the company replaced its previous Apache devices with the F5 platform, application speed has increased noticeably.  In addition, the processing load on servers has been reduced, as the F5 platform off-loads SSL termination.  According to Damilola Akinsiku, Application Delivery Engineer at Interswitch, “Applications are 30% faster.  This means we can successfully process a lot more transactions.”

Currently, the F5 platform handles more than 200 transactions per second.  It underpins the company’s most successful public-facing applications, including services delivered to 2 million web customers and 6 million ATM customers round the clock.  As new services are rolled out and customer numbers grow, the platform will effortlessly cope with even higher volumes of real-time transactions.

Improved efficiency and flexibility

The IT team finds the F5 platform far easier to manage than the previous load balancing products.  The solution also gives staff greater flexibility in managing and maintaining the application environment.  For example, the F5 platform can be used to facilitate the deployment of patches or fix problems in source code, saving a great deal of time.  “F5 offers simpler configurations,” Ogungbamila says.  “A lot of operational inefficiencies were resolved by putting F5 in place.”

Interswitch makes extensive use of F5’s programing language iRules to flexibly configure the F5 platform, and this tool has been very helpful for managing IP addresses, operating virtual servers and setting up automatic redirects across all of the company’s web servers.  “iRules improves our productivity and reduces configuration overhead,” admits Olutosin Shobukola, Application Delivery Lead at Interswitch.

A secure and resilient platform

Interswitch has made selective use of F5’s ASM module to help it address vulnerabilities in certain areas of its infrastructure.  For example, it has successfully used F5 ASM to resolve security issues resulting from its use of the open source blogging software WordPress.  “The F5 platform helps us to deliver highly secure applications,” asserts Ogungbamila.

The deployment of F5 prompted Interswitch to rethink its disaster recovery strategy and it is now in the process of migrating from an active-passive configuration to active-active.  The company believes this strategy will lead to long term cost savings and a reduction in business risk, because it is easier to ensure that both systems are up-to-date and operating properly in parallel.