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FFM banks gain confidence with continuity help from SDN

Technology executives with First Farmers & Merchants Bank feel confident with SDN Communications helping keep their network running.

“We went with SDN last year. It was really the first time we went with anyone local. It’s been awesome,” says Darlene Gonnerman, senior network administrator for FF&M. “They care. They have the Midwestern work ethic. There are some really intelligent people who work there.”

Helping companies design, build and maintain good business continuity systems is among the specialties of Sioux Falls-based SDN.

“There’s more and more interest in business continuity as everyone goes 24/7,” says Gary Fischer, a sales engineer at SDN. “Everything is going electronic and needs to be accessed 24/7.”

Fischer is among the technical experts who helped FF&M design a redundant networking system to help protect banking operations. Assisting FF&M is a significant job and one that SDN takes pride in doing.

FF&M has 20 network locations scattered around Minnesota, including 17 banks. The network also includes connections to an operations center, a mortgage-processing office and a holding company office.

The system’s anchor banks are in Luverne and Pipestone in southwestern Minnesota. The other banks are in Austin, Bellechester, Brownsdale, Sargeant, Cannon Falls (two sites), Fairmont, Goodhue, Grand Meadow, Racine, Le Sueur, Red Wing, St. Paul, Stewartville, and White Rock.

The banks have combined assets of more than $650 million and approximately 175 full-time and part-time employees.

Increasing network strength

FF&M started refining its disaster recovery plans in 2006, Gonnerman says.

A lot of the groundwork had been done. With multiple vendors involved, coordination could be difficult. The company that previously managed FF&M’s routers outsourced the duty to workers in another country.

Vendors don’t always cooperate well with each other, Gonnerman says, but SDN made serving the bank’s interest its primary objective. Now SDN is the bank’s primary vendor.

FF&M switched to SDN’s Managed Router Service. Some branches also have SDN’s Managed Firewall Service. SDN provides some of the broadband connectivity for the bank system but also connects with other carriers.

Luverne and Pipestone are tied directly into SDN’s broadband trunk line with a fiber connection. In addition, sites in Luverne and Pipestone have a point-to-point connection. Other branches are linked to the bank’s data center and to each other with various circuitry.

Power outages caused by storms or accidental fiber cuts by utility crews probably are the biggest temporary threats to business continuity and services at FF&M branch banks. However, data will never be lost.

Gonnerman, who is assisted by network administrator Kevin Kittams, says she used to say a little prayer every time a storm was imminent because she wasn’t sure if network protections would work right. Now, she says she’s “leaps and bounds” more confident.

So is her boss, Marlene Trageser, the bank system’s chief information officer. SDN has been very helpful in assisting FF&M develop its system, Trageser says.

“We have conducted a number of tests of the plan that we have in place, and it has worked as it was intended,” she says.

SDN has demonstrated that it takes business continuity seriously, Trageser says.

The proximity of Sioux Falls to the FF&M’s anchor institutions was a factor in the bank’s decision to do business with SDN. Luverne is about 25 miles from Sioux Falls and Pipestone is about 50 miles away.

“Everyone depends on being connected so much more now than even 10 years ago. The expectation is to have everything connected 24 hours a day,” Trageser says. “We feel confident with SDN and their system to help us keep our system up for us and our customers.”

Take a look at SDN’s Business Solutions for more detailed information about the products and solutions it provides to companies and organizations.