Fed Reserve upgrades for check images

The Federal Reserve is targeting the end of March for completion of a server upgrade to handle images of checks.

The Reserve is increasingly using electronic images rather than shipping paper checks around the country, said Dennis Heidlebaugh, resource planner for the Fed's information technology group.

"Check imaging had been developed as kind of a district project, but it became more of a national offering," he said. Legislation signed last October makes the digital image as legal as the paper check itself, he said. Two of the Reserve's district offices were handling the rapidly growing load.

Heidlebaugh's group used modeling products from BMC Software Inc. to assess the load that the servers were handling and to plan the migration. Leaders in the district offices "were quite surprised at how load intensive some of their on-demand services were," he said.

"They were processing maybe 300,000 items an hour through the system. They had an impression that that contributed more to the system load than it did." Instead, the bulk of the strain on the servers came from gateway services, in which users can get specific individual check images. Because it's done on an individual basis, it adds more to the load than the routine processing, he said.

The check-processing application was running on IBM Corp. SP servers under AIX. Although the district office managers envisioned adding more of the same technology, the BMC modeling software suggested that upgrading to IBM p670 eServers would increase the capacity at a much lower software cost, he said.

The project is only half done, he said. The Fed is still deciding whether to consolidate the check imaging operations into one region or keep it distributed. Heidlebaugh declined to identify which regions are involved.

"We're still ongoing on it," he said. "We have moved some of our databases. There have been some software upgrades. They're quite cautious, they want to make sure there is no interruption of their service."

The project is a boon for BMC as well, said Craig Harper, the company's vice president of federal operations. The federal government is the company's fastest growing business sector, he said. There is still room to expand the company's reach, he said.

"There's still a need to do a lot of education around business service management, helping government agencies to understand the benefit of this mapping of IT to their agency business owners and constituents out there," he said.

Michael Dominy, a senior analyst of business applications and commerce at the Yankee Group, said such software tools can help federal IT groups better manage their resources.

"IT organizations and projects typically haven't been run as effectively as other organizational processes," he said. "Using tools to better manage those processes should definitely help."

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