Because the system has a lot of user-defined capabilities, users gain the flexibility to configure the system to meet their specific needs.
While there was a lot of detailed information in the case study, there were some information gaps. A definition of the types of faults the system detects, such as transient, permanent, or intermittent, and how the system handled the different faults would have been helpful. Also, knowing how the faults and errors were then isolated and contained would have been useful.
Since the case study was written in 1998, it would be interesting to see where the product and functionality is at today. The desire and need for highly available systems has only increased over time and it appears that the NCAPS system would have a strong lead over the competition.
Real Time and Fault Tolerant Systems
It's no secret that the Internet has grown into an abundant, international resource that many people use -- and rely on -- daily. "Approximately 1.5 billion people worldwide use Internet today, and Internet usage continues to increase exponentially. A recent survey revealed that approximately 78% to 80% of the people in the age group of 18-50, use Internet," (Arunnima, B.S. -- no date).
From e-mail communications to online shopping, people can use the Internet to access the information or service they need whenever they want, from wherever they want, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This convenience and accessibility has led to an expectation that the services and information will be delivered no matter what. These expectations can be especially high for banking companies who offer online access to customer accounts and private information. Customers have come to expect that the services they need will not only be available, but reliable and secure. "Gone are those days where a customer would walk into a bank and wait for a representative to help do a fund transfer or to request for a demand draft. Expectations of customers have changed with the technological advancements in Internet and telecommunications. Today's tech savvy customer would even want to deposit a cheque being at home at his/her convenience," (Arunnima, B.S. -- no date?)
Because of its popularity, Internet banking was the Web service chosen for this essay. More and more, people are embracing the convenience of online banking: "About 75% of American banking customers surveyed during an October 2008 study reported using online banking to keep track of their expenses. Not surprisingly, a similar number confirmed that they were watching finances more closely during the current economic downturn. Online banking reported the strongest growth among all channels -- customers wanted to watch their finances more closely, at least cost, and only banking served both ends." (Jaymalya Palit, no date.)
Banking customers now expect access to their money at all times, whether to simply check their financial status or to pay bills and transfer funds. This requires a Web service that can ensure that services are available around the clock and that failures and errors won't bring the system down. While it may not be considered a "life or death" situation if a customer can't get into his/her account at a critical time, it could cause distress and/or affect a person's credit by missing a payment by the due date or not being able to transfer needed funds.
The user experience: Web 2.0
For the pseudo online banking service presented here, Web 2.0 will serve as the front-end software foundation. A proven and effective technology, Web 2.0 has the capabilities to provide a customer-centric model, which is particularly helpful in the banking industry. "Technology can now enable banks to provide personalised interaction on party assisted or even unassisted channels. Powered by Web 2.0 technology, Internet banking is moving towards greater personalization and interactivity," (Jaymalya Palit, no date). These capabilities not only provide the appropriate next-generation technology, but also enable banks to establish better relationships with their customers, "Those banks that successfully deliver a memorable and unique customer experience, consistently across their offline and online channels, can hope to steal a march over their competitors," (Jaymalya Palit, no date.)
For this design, Web 2.0 will be implemented as the user-interface of the Web service. The banking interface will be customized by user demands and feedback, with products and services displayed accordingly. The user access screen will be password- protected and will contain several sections that provide account information for the specific user, such as the different types of banking accounts, bill pay, transfers, banking statements, messages, and information on additional banking products. Furthermore, the information provided will have to be up-to-the-minute, allowing customers to see exactly what their financial status may be at any given time. To fully enrich the customer's experience, this may include integration with third-party services such as financial news, stocks, and weather forecasts with information displayed in a multi-service window. The purpose of the multi-service window is to allow the user to open several service windows at one time, and without encountering an Internet "traffic jam," and thus improving the customer experience. "This kind of development model enables banks it engineers to pay more attention to individual service development, respond quickly to financial innovation demand from business staff, and improve the service constantly," (Chen, Hong & Yu, 2009).
A "Channel Handler" on the server side supports communication with the browser through the XML or JSON data formats. The server application must also manage the components of the Web 2.0 graphic user interface, or GUI. In addition, the Web 2.0 framework is responsible for loading the required resources and managing the data models, as well as presenting and organizing the GUI (Chen, Hong & Yu, 2009).
Fault tolerance and 24/7 availability
To complete the architecture of the online banking Web design, the NCAPS technology will be connected to the Web 2.0 framework. The NCAPS system will be running on a Tandem S4000 Cluster which provides NonStop-UX, a fault-tolerant version of Unix. This version runs on a two-node cluster of S4000 machines connected by Servernet (Laranjeira, 1998, p. 448 and R. Horst, 1995).
The backup/primary scheme of the NCAPS system will enable high availability as the primary application provides service, and the backup application is idle and prepared to take over if a failure occurs. Also, the multiple iterations of redundancy throughout the NCAPS system help provide the availability and reliability online banking customers expect, "The majority of communications applications, from cellular telephone conversations to credit card transactions, assume the availability of a reliable network. At this level, data are expected to traverse the network and to arrive intact at their destination," (Medard & Lumetta, 2002).
The PPM will monitor the Web 2.0 functionality as well as applications and state changes and will take action when processes fail. With the PPM components, the system is mostly self-managed, however, the system administrator can access the system and enact changes via the CLI, or Command Line Interface if necessary.
The OftLib, or Open Fault Tolerance Library, offers another layer of fault tolerance and availability for the online banking Web service by managing applications according to predefined policies, and using checkpoints, detecting process hangs, and saving and restoring file descriptors. One example how the OftLib functionality applies to online banking is if a user is in his/her personal bank account and the Web site times out, automatically logging the user out. This pre-defined script is based on timing, and can be monitored and managed by the PPM, however, it could also serve a double purpose by protecting the system as the result of a process hang or other error and simultaneously providing identity protection for the user.
Furthermore, customers can encounter problems easily in the Internet banking environment because services are typically unmanned. The NCAPS system can help keep the service running by providing the appropriate back up mechanisms and by sending messages to the internal architecture. Essentially, the system will keep running despite faults that are encountered. By the time a system administrator is able to monitor the system, the PPM will most likely have resolved the issue, or the system will be running in backup mode, and he/she can intervene with processes or diagnose faults as required.
The earlier, traditional methods of Internet banking offered a poor user experience, with many operations requiring a full-screen refresh. With the combined Web 2.0 technology and NCAPS system offered by the online banking services outlined here, users gain an integrated view of services and a superior level of availability. Full-screen refreshes are no longer necessary and if faults are detected, the NCAPS system can refresh the system in approximately 10 seconds. The NCAPS system also provides the stability needed to keep critical real-time applications up and running and the Web 2.0 technology will allow the bank to provide the "next evolution of the traditional Internet bank" (Chen, Hong & Yu, 2009) that customers are looking for. The Web 2.0 technology is a positive platform for an Internet banking…