Visa embraces mainframe
Visa's digital payment systems connect about two billion consumers to around 36 million merchants all over the world. In 2013, the financial services company processed 90 billion transactions, at an approximate total value of $7 trillion.
The sheer magnitude of this multinational means that all queries must be dealt with quickly, safely and securely, says IBM's new workload leader for the Middle East and Africa at IBM Middle East, Andy Hoiles. Visa's customers - both consumers who want to make a purchase and merchants who want to receive a payment - expect their transaction to happen quickly, easily and securely, he points out. "If these conditions are not met, consumers will become frustrated, merchants will lose business and Visa's business could suffer as a result."
According to Hoiles, mainframe technologies are at the core of Visa's IT network, which is one of the largest in the world. The platform has been designed to handle 47 000 transactions per second, he adds, noting that this level of speed is necessary during the peak shopping periods throughout the year.
Since Visa started using mainframe technologies about 20 years ago, not a single second of downtime has been experienced during the busy holiday shopping season, he says. "The mainframe has some extraordinary technology to ensure that services run uninterrupted," notes Hoiles, continuing that this technology has been developed and enhanced throughout the platform's 50-year history.
While the actual mainframe hardware is manufactured to some of the most exacting standards to ensure its reliability, it is perhaps the microcode software that contributes most to its reliability, says Hoiles. This software runs at the lowest level on the hardware and it cannot be accessed by other programs running on the system. It also scans the system environment, monitoring the services that are provided and detecting any failures that are occurring or may occur.
For a company like Visa, he says, the mainframe offers great business value because the technology has a unique ability to process data relentlessly, without failure, in an extremely secure way. Centralising applications and vital data that is core to the success of the business on mainframe systems ensures the smooth and efficient running of operations, he says. "Mainframes are synonymous with the highest levels of availability and security, something that these businesses and their customers place great value in."
And with the rapid growth in mobile banking, mainframe technology has had to evolve to accommodate these types of transactions, Hoiles points out. In Rwanda, for example, Visa has created a solution that can run on relatively simple and affordable mobile phones, he continues. "A Rwandan citizen is able to make or receive a payment to or from another citizen in a quick and efficient way through a relatively simple mobile application. This allows commerce to flow in situations where the citizens may not have access to traditional banking services and can provide significant benefits not only to the citizens but the overall economy alike."
He attributes the efficiency of these mobile banking systems to the programming and transaction processing model of the mainframe because it enables these types of applications to be created quickly, boasting adequate levels of performance. "The mainframe is able to respond quickly to a request from a mobile device, processing the transaction and ensuring that both citizens involved in the transaction are satisfied with the outcome."
Admitting that he may be a little biased, Hoiles does not know of any other platform that could deliver the transaction processing capability, availability and security required from a corporation like Visa. In conclusion, he adds that the flexibility of the mainframe also makes it ideal for Visa so that the company can constantly develop new applications to meet disparate customer needs and grow its market share.