Cornerstone Home Lending Inc. is banking that its retooled WAN infrastructure will pay dividends as it modifies how it communicates with its branch offices.
The Houston-based mortgage bank in 2013 began rolling out a suite of applications and systems from Citrix Systems Inc. to offset application and performance problems that plagued its 84 branch offices, said Ricky Caldwell, Cornerstone's director of server operations, architecture and infrastructure.
Old network design caused severe performance bottlenecks
The culprit: Clogged T1 pipes and a bogged-down Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) ring. Cornerstone's loan origination software is centrally located in Houston and the network strained to handle the multitude of borrower documents, appraisals, images and other associated materials that were traveling across the network to database and application servers.
Ricky CaldwellCornerstone Home Lending
"There really was nothing in place except for normal desktops and fat clients," Caldwell said of Cornerstone's network design before the upgrade. "The bad design of it was that our loan origination software would have to talk to Houston to get the information and then [send it] back across the wire. It was slow as it presented the data back up [to the loan originators]. So our main driving force was how to make this better. My solution was to centralize and go with Citrix."
Citrix's CloudBridge 4000 WAN optimization platform anchors Cornerstone's revamped WAN. Among other benefits, the devices offer Cornerstone protocol acceleration, secure VPN tunnels and quality of service.
The mortgage lender is pairing CloudBridge with Citrix's NetScaler application delivery controller to manage the delivery of Microsoft Office applications --including the migration from Windows XP to Windows 7 -- and Citrix's XenDesktop virtual desktop infrastructure app to deliver a unified desktop image to the firm's 1,250 employees.
Latency rates drop after upgrade to new network design
"We did a proof of concept in our West Coast offices" -- which had regularly suffered latency rates in excess of 90 to 120 milliseconds -- "and saw an immediate performance improvement for loan origination," Caldwell said. Cornerstone is currently extending the WAN infrastructure design throughout its offices, with the ultimate goal of replacing dedicated application servers now located at each branch with integrated CloudBridge appliances.
"In Stage 2, we are saying, 'Let's get rid of the branch server.' As they are entering [end-of-life], we're going to use CloudBridge, [which] runs a small version of Windows to make it a print server. The rest of it is optimization," Caldwell said.
To provide additional visibility, Cornerstone employs XenDesktop Director to shed light on performance bottlenecks. The software lets help desk agents view session-level details associated with users' problems. Issues that do occur are quickly resolved and, because application performance overall has improved, Caldwell said the number of help desk tickets has been sharply reduced.
Additionally, Cornerstone is using Citrix to meet new privacy requirements mandated by the U.S. Consumer Protection Financial Bureau. "To do that, we turn our fat clients to thin clients where consumer information can't be stored on laptop or mobile devices," Caldwell said. "As long as we can securely provide a VPN-like session through Citrix, and no borrower information is stored on the PC, we are well past regulatory compliance." Borrower information is instead stored in Houston, where it is securely protected.
"With the regulatory issues and the end of XP, we were able to wrap everything up into one project," Caldwell said. "Using Citrix as an umbrella -- it came at a good time. The product is mature enough for our industry and we can jump into this."
Foundation laying the groundwork for next transformation of WAN
Finally, Cornerstone's Citrix-anchored WAN infrastructure will serve as a test to determine -- as T1 service contracts begin to expire -- if the lender can ultimately reduce its reliance on its existing MPLS backbone in favor of a broadband-based WAN.
"If you can get a 50 Mbps connection [from a cable company or other provider], it doesn't make sense to spend thousands per month on a T1 or a bonded T1 when you have the ability for an alternative," he said.
"The whole evolution of the WAN -- when you go back to the days when everything was in a mainframe and everything was centrally processed -- and as WAN links got faster, we found we can move the data out of one place and have it all over the place. But what you are seeing now is everything maturing and people saying, 'If we put all the data in one place -- whether it's the cloud or an enterprise-class data center -- if we put things there, and we can access them from anywhere, then we aren't dependent on these really expensive T1 lines anymore', so it's really come full circle.
"Let's have things centrally located. All I need to do is have an Internet connection to access my file securely. At the end of the day, that's all we care about. Can our loan officers get applications and [can] our processers and underwriters get loans out? At some point, the market will mature enough that it won't matter if we have a branch going to Starbucks for a meeting, at least they can process loans when they sit there, and hopefully that is where we are going with all this."