Principal Financial Group said it has quadrupled processing volume on its Web site and improved response time by two to three times since it began running its Web services on an International Business Machines Corp. S/390 server.

Principal, the largest manager of 401(k) plans in the U.S., previously supported its Web site with a Sun Microsystems Unix server.

Principal has been able to increase its ability to serve a growing number of users in a more reliable manner, said Todd Anderson, senior IT analyst with the Des Moines-based financial company.

Principal, which installed the IBM server in October, wanted to ensure that its Web site could handle the expected rush of users that occurs at the end and the beginning of the year - the traditional times to add money to 401(k) plans.

The Web site lets Principal's two million registered users view their financial portfolios, including 401(k) plans, mutual funds, mortgages, individual insurance plans, and bank accounts on one spreadsheet-like page. Customers can also move funds in some accounts.

With only 20% of its customers registered to use the Web services, Principal was interested in installing a server platform that could handle rapid growth.

By moving its Web server to the same platform as its mainframe, Principal "eliminated points of failure in the systems infrastructure," said Dale Ward, assistant director of information services at Principal. "It got rid of the middle layers in the infrastructure."

Allowing the Web site to run on the same platform as Principal's IBM server, where the customer data already resides, reduces the number of steps and creates a more reliable environment, Mr. Ward said.

Putting services on a single platform also lets Principal be more cost-effective in serving customers.

"Customers get information about their accounts and can generate adjustments without having to involve a human," said Mr. Ward. The firm also provides services through its call center.

Mr. Ward said Sun's Unix system didn't offer the ability to increase the number of end-users as rapidly. In addition, it required special interfaces.

Principal will continue to use the Unix platform for certain non-Web applications like data warehousing and administration.

Paul Wanish, a consultant for IBM's server group, said financial institutions "continue to depend on the S/390 for their backbone businesses and many of them are putting in the bigger, faster machines for the E-business world" as well.

"It is an extension of the infrastructure they currently have," he said.

Other financial institutions that use the S/390 server are New York-based Towers Perrin, Citigroup Inc., and Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank, he said.

Annmarie Earley, research director for retail banking at Stamford, Conn.-based GartnerGroup Financial Services, said Principal's move is not unusual.

"Given its international strategy, Principal might have preferred IBM because IBM is known for its global serving network infrastructure," she said.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.