Halkbank, founded in 1993, is one of the largest banks in Türkiye, corporate and retail banking, investor relations, and SME and commercial services to over 15 million customers. But during the pandemic lockdowns, customers were forced to switch to the bank’s digital channels, and mobile app users quickly soared from one million to 2.5 million.
Since the pandemic, however, this increase in digital customers hasn’t been entirely smooth. The bank recognized the need to scale its mobile banking platform to handle more than double the volume of traffic.
Namik Kemal Uçkan, head of IT operations at Halkbank, lists challenges created in different areas, including prioritizing network availability when traffic volumes surge; making services in high demand available during peaks; ensuring speedy resolution and identification of network issues; having a sufficient capacity of network monitoring solutions; and ensuring faster incident resolutions and troubleshooting across the networks.
As a result, increasing complexity inside the enterprise IT ecosystem has been constant, and managing networks that support it, while always important, have become critical to address.
Over the last 10 years, Halkbank has been using Riverbed SteelHead across more than 1,000 branches for WAN optimization, and network and application performance. Riverbed’s solutions have helped to ensure Halkbank’s business critical applications are always available for its business users.
“Riverbed SteelHead has been used to accelerate the performance of the internal banking applications that are utilized by its own employees,” says Mena Migally, regional VP, META, at Riverbed. “By deploying this solution, they’ve reduced the latency for applications at branch offices while also realizing bandwidth savings.”
However, due to the fast-growing base of digital customers, the bank had to find an integrated solution that would ensure sufficient network performance as well as troubleshoot in case of bottlenecks.
In most enterprises, network performance management is a proactive solution to identify and reduce network issues that affect not only the end user, but also internal tasks associated with maintaining business operations. A network performance monitoring solution also provides both performance and security monitoring across all types of network environments—physical, virtual, hybrid, and multi-cloud.
Overall, network performance monitoring solutions are designed to help organizations obtain visibility across IT environments, combining network forensics, application analytics, and end-user experience monitoring.
“We needed to increase the capacity of our network performance management tool to ensure we could identify network issues before they risk disrupting services for customers and impacting our reputation,” says Uçkan.
For Halkbank, the goal was to provide 100% availability for all its services, so it needed a solution to help them to be proactive, not reactive, when it comes to network management.
Without a robust solution in place, finding the source of issues to resolve would be challenging, and if issues weren’t related to the network, the IT team would also need to be alerted.
“With an increase in users, there’s a corresponding increase in network traffic, which can cause bottlenecks and impact application performance and user experience,” says Migally. “To prevent this, banks need to carefully monitor applications and analyze how they scale.”
Classic misstep in solution selection
Enterprises scaling and bringing in network monitoring solutions usually stray down two common dead ends that can cause an increase in pain points.
The first is bringing in point solutions from a new vendor that don’t integrate and orchestrate with the existing network performance monitoring stack. Using third-party, siloed tools to troubleshoot the application, network, and device levels can be complicated and time-consuming.
The second is excessive focus on trying to locate sources of performance bottlenecks, when sometimes identifying those parts of the network and applications that aren’t creating an issue are equally useful. Network administrators using network performance solutions can’t waste time chasing multiple possibilities. Eliminating what isn’t causing an issue can also help decrease the overall mean time to respond. The remedy lies in being able to resolve these performance and availability issues rapidly.
Uçkan reiterates that Halkbank was confident in its ability to scale and handle the increase in traffic with its existing investment and skills ability around Riverbed SteelHead. His main challenge was to increase the capacity of its network performance management solution to ensure the bank could identify network issues before they risk disrupting services and impacting reputation.
Namık Kemal Uçkan, Halkbank
Even before the pandemic, Enterprise Strategy Group’s (ESG) research found that ensuring network security, maximizing application performance levels and application availability, and fostering employee productivity by eliminating constraints for remote, home, and mobile workers were among the nine most cited capabilities that organizations believed would have the greatest impact on helping to grow their businesses in 2020 and beyond.
Building the solution and capabilities
To tackle these challenges, Halkbank decided to continue its long-term relationship with Riverbed and scaled its capability using their solutions. Halkbank is now using Riverbed’s Network Performance Management to monitor the over 40 business-critical applications that support its financial and online banking services.
The solution is integrated with the bank’s IT management platform, giving the team real-time visibility and automatically generating alerts when issues arise. The complete solution stack built around the platform includes other components as well, such as Riverbed AppResponse, which enables Halkbank to identify the root cause of an issue, whether it’s in the network, applications, or database. The responsibility for each of these three areas lies with different teams, and it creates accountability and helps get the right people working towards a resolution, rather than multiple teams dedicating limited time and resources to troubleshoot. It also helps Halkbank track trends in application performance and traffic, thereby allowing Halkbank to take proactive, informed decisions based on clear data.
The main differentiator with AppResponse is the ability to deliver domain isolation analysis, reducing the time required to isolate and identify issues. From a single graph, internal teams can determine where to focus their efforts, which accelerates the process of determining the root cause.
Another component is Riverbed Portal, which helps create consolidated and highly customizable dashboards. This means different internal IT teams can develop dashboards for metrics that are important to their specific functions and responsibilities. The database team, for instance, is able to monitor the performance of its queries and then optimize underperforming queries. Similarly, the network team uses these dashboards to monitor re-transmission rates, while the application team uses it to keep a track of user response times.
Halkbank can also use these dashboards to report high-level performance metrics on overall availability and performance to executive users, using color coding schemes to define performance thresholds and identify the source of any developing issues.
Moving towards proactive and predicted responses
Using Riverbed’s unified suite of solutions, Halkbank can now help deliver nearly 100% availability of digital services, and monitor its business-critical internet banking and mobile banking applications. And by integrating service-level agreements into the solution, Halkbank can track the deviation between real-time service availability and service-level agreements.
Before the solution stack was introduced, Halkbank’s network was like a black box with no visibility, so network was often blamed for any performance and service-level issues. Now it’s easier to understand where the issues are and notify the right team to fix them before they cause outages.
As an example, it helped the bank’s networking team identify code-related issues plaging the banking platform, and the problem was routed to the software development team for resolution. So by constantly analyzing all packets, flow, and device data throughout the IT network, Riverbed’s Network Performance Management improves Halkbank’s ability to detect and resolve network and security issues in a timely and proactive manner. And IT teams responsible for network and application performance and availability can work from a common set of data to derive root causes of issues impacting end-users.
Multiple groups within Halkbank—spanning IT operations, business users, management, and top executives—now have a common view of potential issues to address.
For Halkbank, the solution has created a single source of truth across multiple products and audiences. Ensuring the overall health of the bank’s IT environment requires that all stakeholders agree on the issues to address and actions to take. Providing a common view has enabled all levels of Halkbank to agree on how best to resolve issues quickly. “With automated alerts, mean-time-to-resolution is almost at zero,” says Uçkan. “We can see an anomaly as soon as it happens and resolve it before it impacts service. This actionable insight ensures optimum performance and a great customer experience.” He also points out that Halkbank has not experienced any downtime for its mobile platform services in the last two years, despite the volume of traffic more than doubling.