A subsidiary of LUKOIL, LUKOIL-Inter-Card (LICARD) operates a system of credit card payments at gas stations. A leading fuel card issuer in Russia and the CIS, the company has over 18 years of successful experience with domestic and foreign clients.
The LICARD system currently operates over five thousand terminals at 3700 gas stations that accept LUKOIL fuel cards, ATM bank cards, and customer loyalty cards. The system processes over 17 million transactions a month.
LICARD's IT infrastructure was first deployed in 1996. Following explosive business growth, the company purchased new hardware and software for each new task. However, exchanges of data between gas station terminals and the processing system, as well as between branches and the head office, took place offline. Such a system was less sensitive to unstable communications channels. Over time, however, the quality of communications has improved and the old system, with its cumbersome maintenance and administration, was clearly becoming obsolete.
By the mid-2000s almost all upgrading opportunities were exhausted and the data center failed to ensure the necessary level of availability. Most preventive maintenance operations were done manually and client service had to be interrupted. The new era of high speeds everywhere has created a new business environment where real time data exchange was a must.
LICARD therefore decided to launch a comprehensive IT upgrade program to increase the availability of IT services at gas stations. As Nikolay Yashin, LICARD's deputy CEO (operations), puts it, "We had to move from 'home-made' systems to industrial standards."
The project was contracted to Jet Infosystems, a company that had delivered several infrastructural projects for various LUKOIL subsidiaries. "It was important to hire a contractor with expertise in all the systems we needed. Such companies are not that easy to find in Russia. Jet Infosystems was a partner we could trust," says Mikhail Brif, head of LICARD's technological development department.
A joint client-contractor team reviewed the company’s IT solutions and developed a general strategy to increase the availability of IT services by implementing several consecutive projects. These included (a) the deployment of a fault-tolerant IT infrastructure, (b) migration of server hardware and processing systems to a new outsourced data center, (c) development of a monitoring system for terminals and network hardware at gas stations.
New IT infrastructure at LICARD: a win-win solution
Vyacheslav Medvedev, systems architect, chief project designer at Jet Infosystems: "LICARD's IT infrastructure was evolving for a long time in a fairly piecemeal fashion. The client clearly wanted a dramatic upgrade. Yet the old system had to be replaced without interrupting any services."
The new system was designed in consultation with the client's IT experts and deployed in a data center that complied with uninterrupted power supply, air conditioning, and fire safety requirements. A virtual infrastructure for the most critical systems included an integrated administration center, a centralized data backup system, a fault-tolerant data storage system, and automatic solutions to ensure high availability. A communications network was also designed and deployed in the new data center.
The project was based on solutions from IBM, Brocade and VMware.
Fast migration of IT systems: covering all the bases
The actual migration of all of the hardware, the specialized software, the databases, the offline and the critical online payment processing system from the old data center to the new one was a true challenge.
More than 50 servers had to be transported without any impact on the operation of critical systems. "The move was carefully planned and monitored to the minute as the equipment was carried by trucks to the new data center," recallsVladimir Rodnevskiy, manager at LICARD's IT infrastructure division. "Moscow had anunusually hot summer that year and many old servers just did not survive the move. Some data therefore had to be recovered from backups using redundant machines."
To migrate the online processing system, virtual machine replication software was installed at the old site and a dedicated channel set up between the two data centers to automate most of the process. During the migration LICARD's demand of zero service interruptions was met completely.
Reliable support for the new data center
Data center support was outsourced to JI since, according to Mr. Rodnevskiy, "expected business growth at LICARD required experts in various areas to support IT systems while limiting the number of in-house personnel and curbing additional administrative expenses."
All LICARD data center components, including payment processing systems, were connected to the centralized monitoring system at Jet Infosystems’ Service Center to be monitored and administered on a 24х7х365 basis. The availability of the most critical systems is 99.93%.
Vladislav Anufriev, Jet Infosystems' outsourcing manager, comments:"LICARD now has a single partner responsible for its entire IT infrastructure from hardware to DBM systems. We also monitor system performance and consult the client on capacity management. LICARD personnel is in full control of IT operations and the implementation of the SLA. The client receives monthly reports from Jet Infosystems on incidents and other issues. In addition, LICARD can check our performance by initiating independent audits."
Client services under control: monitoring of terminals and networks
The final step was to deploy an integrated performance monitoring system for gas station networks and terminals. The system covers over 3,000 units.
The integrated system based on SolarWinds software consists of two large modules. The first module ensures real-time availability and performance monitoring, data collection, incident prioritization and troubleshooting. LICARD personnel are promptly advised of any incidents by email and SMS. Whenever a network component is found to be unavailable (some communications channels and hardware are operated by third parties), the Service Desk system generates an incident message, which is sent to the appropriate contractor. Failures can therefore be fixed even before they become a problem for clients.
The second module provides analytical reporting. Historical data are used to calculate the basic performance parameters of the processing system and to generate a variety of specific current reports. "For instance, remote gas stations often use cellular networks as the last-mile communications channel," says Stanislav Kuzubov, deputy director of the Systems Administration department at Jet Infosystems. – The analytical reporting module helps to calculate the availability of this last mile for various operators and to make informed choices about the best available service."
This project has solved several key problems by integrating the monitoring process, making the system more scaleable and functional, and by automating manual tasks. Fast incident discovery and diagnostics have reduced system downtime to a minimum. LICARD personnel can adjust and expand the monitoring system on their own. They can also analyze network performance. Moreover, the system provides an opportunity to monitor the work of in-house workers as well as outsourcers.
A flexible and highly manageable IT systems was set up at LICARD to provide fast responses to changes in the business environment. The system has reduced scheduled and unscheduled downtime. Finally, competent administration of the system has brought down LICARD's operating costs.
“The project has dramatically increased the availability of IT services, improved control over systems, facilitated IT infrastructure planning and expansion,” says Nikolay Yashin, director of information technologies at LUKOIL-Inter-Card. “As a result, our services have become more reliable, adding peace of mind to the financial benefits already enjoyed by our card holders."
"Higher availability of IT services was mandatory if we wanted to continue growing and using new technologies for our customer loyalty programs, " comments Mr. Rodnevskiy. "We are now switching more and more clients over to the new system."
In the near future the company plans to expand monitoring to all external as well as internal IT-services. It also intends to set up a configuration management database to receive information necessary for monitoring hardware units and managing their lifecycle.