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UCB's Thinking Thin

Bank: United Community Bank, Atlanta, Ga.

Asset Size: $7.7 billion

Key Player: CTO Jim Stewart

Project: Infrastructure Management

Getting Thin: The bank spent $250,000 to replace and standardize workstations through virtualization.

For almost 50 years United Community Banks was a sleepy institution based north of Atlanta. But in the past 10 years it's made 13 acquisitions and grown assets to $7.7 billion. CTO Jim Stewart says the acquisition streak will continue and that's a big reason the bank turned to cloud computing, virtualization and hundreds of thin-client terminals: to efficiently and cost-effectively deploy and manage its increasingly dispersed infrastructure. "We need the ability to have a flexible and scalable infrastructure to handle acquisitions. ...We wanted to challenge our CEO by saying: 'Go make acquisitions, we're ready,'" Stewart says.

United Community Banks spent nine months and $250,000 to install Wyse thin clients to replace PCs for tellers, branch managers and operations staff and deployed server and application virtualization using Citrix XenApp. Besides standardizing on a single thin client model, the bank wanted to enable operations staff to use the dual-monitor capability to simultaneously input data on one screen and see it on the other. The unit can also be used for virtual desktops.

The majority of applications and data reside on a Citrix XenApp 4.5 server farm that runs Microsoft Windows Server 2003 at the main data center. Using a wide-area network, staff connects to a pre-configured published desktop for either tellers or general users, eliminating the need to provision systems. United Community Banks uses Wyse Device Manager (WDM) to automatically configure the Wyse thin clients for these two groups, so that users receive access to their desktop when they login. When the bank updates software or applies patches, the change is universally available to all thin-client users because the changes happen on the Citrix server not the local thin client.

Jeanne Capachin, a research vp with IDC Financial Insights, says it's unusual for a bank to convert virtually all its PCs to thin-client servers. While the maintenance and hardware savings could be significant, such a model demands a network that is 100 percent flawless with complete redundancy. What United Community Banks is doing is "pretty leading edge," she says.

Indeed, Stewart says that maintenance savings is critical to the project's ROI. The initiative will save $250,000 in annual field labor and reduce help desk staff costs by 50 percent since the thin client terminals require a fraction of the maintenance of the software-laden PCs. Since 96 percent of thin client issues can be resolved remotely versus just 20 percent with PCs, Stewart says he employs only five field technicians as opposed to the 20 he'd need if he were servicing PCs. But the savings are not confined to maintenance. Stewart says that the bank saved 60 percent on hardware costs by going with Wyse thin clients instead of PCs. For 1,800 systems the savings totaled $990,000. He also estimates that he's reduced hardware replacement frequency by 57 percent and annual hardware costs by $450,000 in the first seven years.