Centura Bank in North Carolina is buying a multimillion dollar, state-of-the-art branch automation system that will use Microsoft Corp.'s new software for running personal computer networks.

Rocky Mount, N.C.-based Centura, with $4.2 billion in assets, has contracted with Electronic Data Systems Corp. to install an $8 million branch system using number of new technologies in the rapidly developing realm of "client-server" computing.

The project is also noteworthy because it represents one of the largest deployments to date by a U.S. retail bank of Microsofts Windows NT operating system, the software giant's ambitious push into the heart of corporate computing. Windows NT is a souped-up variant of Microsoft's hugely popular Windows PC operating system.

Operating systems software control a computer's basic functions and direct how users interact with application software like word processors, spreadsheets, and, in banking, teller and platform automation systems as well.

Wireless Link

Centura's retail system will employ another relatively new technology: a wireless data communications network from AT&T that will link more than 1,500 PCs to be located in the bank's 155 branches.

The Centura deal represents Microsoft's first big push into consumer banking with Windows NT. Introduced last summer, Windows NT is designed mainly to operate on computer "servers," or the beefed-up hardware used as digital traffic cops over PC networks.

Centura will be installing a PC network version of Windows NT, called Advanced Server, in its 155 branches, running on AT&T hardware.

A recently upgraded version of Windows-based branch automation software from EDS/Ampersand will be installed on the PC workstations, which will connected to the servers via AT&T's WaveLan wireless networking system.

The AT&T network transmits data using radio waves, eliminating the need for expensive wiring or cables. Easing Communications Tom Rogers, Centura's executive vice president of information technology, said the main reason for using the wireless network was lower operating costs, but he added the technology also offered some functional advantages.

He said many that many Centura bankers travel frequently between branches and with the wireless network, they will be able to walk into any of the bank's offices with a laptop computer and easily communicate with centralized data bases.

"Our objective is to reengineer workflow and internal process throughout the bank to become more focused on the market and the customer," Mr. Rogers said.

While the bank's PCs are interconnected via the wireless network, branch servers are linked to the bank's International Business Machines Corp. mainframe via standard telephone lines, EDS officials said.

Michael Rawdine, marketing manager for financial services at Microsoft, said the Centura deal is pan of a first wave of banks moving to Windows NT Advanced Server to power their branch networks.

National Westminster Bancorp in New Jersey and First Bancorp. of Ohio have also committed to using Windows NT as their branch servers, Mr. Rawdine said, adding that despite a slow start, banks' interest in Windows NT is picking up.

"There are several very large [banking] opportunities we are working right now that will come to a decision in next few weeks," he said, although he declined to give the names the institutions.

Despite Windows NT's relative newness, Centura's Mr. Rogers said he is confident that it will live up to its billing by Microsoft as an "industrial strength" operating system by the time the project is completed next year.

"I don't think we're ahead of the curve, but we're at the front of the curve," Mr. Rogers said.

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