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Members don't complain about systems going down at any of Coast Central CU's 10 member services branches or 18 ATMs, thanks to a full-time information systems staff of just three-and application server software, said Jim Sessa, chief financial officer.

The 50,000-member CU operates from a "retail business" philosophy, Sessa explained. Being open seven days a week and until 9 p.m. at some branches "can put a strain on a lean IT staff. Some of our branches just can't justify supporting an IS staff to take care of their technical problems."

IS's load is lightened by the application server software, which allows IS to provide technical support- and maintain control-from a central location when applications go haywire on any of Coast Central's 130 full-time employees.

"A member service representative working with a member may call us with a problem," explained Camille Miller, information systems technician. "The rep may have the 'Caps Lock' key on or the rep's printer won't print. Because we can look directly at the rep's screen from a central server, the problem gets resolved without any delay."

The $440-million CU has used Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Citrix Systems, Inc.'s MetaFrame XP and Microsoft's NT 4.0 on four servers for four years. MetaFrame securely deploys about a dozen applications, including core banking, front office, loan and Microsoft Office software, across all branches.

Applications reside on the servers and uses thin clients such as Windows-based terminals, instead of executing from individual PCs. Thus, the solution is server-centric, rather than hardware-centric.

At Coast Central, the MetaFrame network comprises 115 Windows-based terminals, with 32 more PCs soon to be replaced by Windows-based terminals. "Win Terms perform well for nearly all functions and require less maintenance, especially from support staff," Sessa said.

IT staff doesn't have to go from PC to PC-some of which are a two-hour drive through mountains from the main branch-to play doctor.

"With Citrix, we've been able to eliminate most trips to the locations to handle operational problems," Sessa explained. "Without Citrix, we estimate that we would need at least two additional full time positions to cover basic day-to-day support issues, plus we would need to cover travel costs to locations. IS now can deal with improving service and exploring enhancements to the system instead of spending the time behind a wheel in a car."

Bandwidth considerations are null and void, because MetaFrame doesn't load redundant information. Less data is sent back and forth - and performance is consistent whether dial-up or local area network.

"Citrix requires less bandwidth," said Glenn Powell, vice president of information systems, "so, you don't have to upgrade communications and data lines as often, and that keeps costs down."

Powell offered a word of warning, however. "A negative in using application server software is that some applications are not thin-client friendly. We ended up having to play around with our core banking product, which wasn't written specifically for thin-client. And some loan apps aren't written for thin client."

"Before you buy a new app, try it and make sure it will work with MetaFrame," Sessa suggested, "or encourage the vendor to make it thin client."

Once applications are compatible, Coast Central experiences clock-work availability. Up-time is near 100 % for the applications used via MetaFrame. The combination of near-perfect performance and quick IT response to hitches means "high scores on member service," Sessa said.

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