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FleetBoston develops Internet safe deposit boxes

23 April 2001  |  772 views  |  0

With fileTRUST™, FleetBoston Financial, a $179 billion diversified financial services company, is the first major U.S. bank to offer a secure online document repository. The service, which received the Microsoft® Exchange and Collaboration (MEC) 2000 Solutions Award for the most innovative use of the Microsoft Exchange 2000 Web Storage System, was built with technical assistance from Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS), and Plural, Inc., the 1999 National Microsoft Certified Partner (MCP) Partner of the Year.

While many financial service institutions remain cautious about moving online, FleetBoston Financial - the eighth-largest financial holding company in the United States - is establishing cutting-edge services that use Internet technologies in groundbreaking ways. With fileTRUST, Fleet is the first bank in the nation to develop a secure Internet-based online document storage service. The service draws on the native security, reliability, and scalability of Microsoft Windows 2000 and Microsoft Exchange 2000 Server. fileTRUST was produced as part of the e-Catalyst effort within Fleet, a corporate-wide initiative for creating top-tier Web-enabled services for customers and employees.
fileTRUST brings together the security of a traditional safe deposit box with the convenience of the Web to help users easily and securely store and manage important electronic documents and images such as contracts, deeds, titles, tax documents, and health records. The service offers best of class security with all connections made over an SSL line (128-bit encryption), the highest level of built-in security offered by most Web browsers. With fileTRUST, users' data will live securely on the Internet so that they can access it from their PCs at work and at home.
"This product reinforces Fleet's commitment to offering Web-based products to our customers that are safe, of the highest quality, and provide added value," says Blaise Heltai, Managing Director, Global Internet Strategy at FleetBoston Financial. "fileTRUST users can trust that their sensitive files and information are safe on the Web in their electronic safety deposit box. The powerful technical architecture that fileTRUST was built upon offers best of class' security and convenience in online storage, and provides the additional capabilities of collaboration and document sharing. As users of fileTRUST ourselves, we offer a compelling case for the value of the service," Heltai says.
Technology Partners Include Microsoft MCSP Partner of the Year
To create the fileTRUST Web application, Fleet worked with Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS) and Plural, Inc., the 1999 National Microsoft Certified Solution Provider (MCSP) Partner of the Year.
Marcel Meth, Senior Vice President of Global Internet Strategy at FleetBoston worked with Mark Quindlen of Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS) early in the process. Working together, Meth and Quindlen cultivated the idea into a proof of concept and conducted a partner search, eventually selecting Plural, which works exclusively with Microsoft tools and technologies. Plural's expertise in using Microsoft Exchange was key to the solution provider choice. Plural's team utilized the Microsoft Solutions Framework (MSF) to manage the process of creating an action-driven user interface, designing a technical architecture, and building and testing the solution. During early stages, Plural worked together with MCS on design issues.
"Security is extremely important to us," says Meth. To achieve the highest level of security and convenience, Fleet joined forces with several leading technology companies in addition to MCS and Plural, including EMC, Compaq Computer Corporation, and StorageNetworks, Inc. The developers also leveraged innate features of COM+, such as COM+ Roles, to heighten the application's security.
Award Winning Collaboration with Exchange 2000 Server
Microsoft Exchange 2000 Server is at the heart of the fileTRUST service. Seamlessly integrated with Microsoft Windows 2000, Exchange 2000 will deliver exemplary collaboration features to Fleet's customers. The service captured the Microsoft Exchange and Collaboration (MEC) 2000 Solutions Award for the most innovative use of the Microsoft Exchange 2000 Web Storage System.
"Microsoft Exchange was ideal for the solution," says Meth. "We would have needed to write a lot of code to deliver the type of file system functions we had in mind for users if we had gone with a database system. With Microsoft Exchange, we avoided writing much of that code and still got the extensibility and performance we required."
The service benefits from Microsoft Exchange 2000 Server's full integration with Windows 2000 Advanced Server and the Microsoft Active Directory service. Active Directory makes it easier to manage the new Microsoft Exchange 2000 Server Web Storage System. The Web Storage System combines the functions of the file system, the Web, and the collaboration server to form a central repository for e-mail, documents, Web content, and applications. All fileTRUST users authenticate against Active Directory through a basic Internet logon consisting of a user ID and password.
Plural also took advantage of the new storage groups and multiple database features in Exchange 2000 to increase availability, improve reliability, and increase the speed of user downloads. By creating multiple customer databases on each server, Fleet can take a single database offline if necessary, thereby affecting only a fraction of the total number of users.
Leveraging the Highly Scalable Microsoft Framework
Fleet had several goals for fileTRUST, Meth explains. Among these was the desire to create a scalable, Web-based file system that could incorporate collaborative aspects in the future.
"Mark Quindlen of MCS convinced me that Exchange Server would be able to scale to do the job," says Meth, who had considered other platforms. "I was a little skeptical because, from my experience with Lotus, I knew that Domino would not be able to scale as needed." [Domino is the server element in a suite of software from Lotus Development Corporation.] Building on the highly scalable Microsoft .NET Enterprise Servers, Meth is confident that fileTRUST will be able to scale to serve 20 times the number of users supported in the current version, allowing the company to one day present the solution to all of its 400,000 small business customers and more.
"In addition to scalability," Meth continues, "Exchange allows us to look at the properties of files so that we can add META information about the files - information that goes beyond the constraints of a file system." META information such as the author and time a file was created will enable functions such as searching and displaying query results to end-users. "We knew that we wouldn't be offering all these functions in the first version, but users would start asking for them eventually. By using Exchange 2000, we're poised to be able to add those quickly."
Reusable COM+ Objects Help Speed Time to Market
Plural's team of 10 developers began work on the first iteration of fileTRUST in May 2000 and completed the task in five months. Working with COM+ allowed the team to define a significant number of features and distribute those features among the development team so that they could work concurrently and save time. Along with COM+, Plural was able to leverage many of the features inherent in the Microsoft platform to speed development, including the Microsoft Visual Studio suite of developer tools, SMTP Services, and the Microsoft Exchange 2000 Web Storage System services.
Fleet and Plural saved time by using COM+ to manage load balancing and execute business logic. The developers were able to componentize the architecture for distribution to separate application servers for scalability, as well as divide among separate developers to reduce overall development time. Rob Erman, General Manager at Plural explains, "COM+ will also make future builds and integrations easier. For fileTRUST Plural wrote nearly 20 COM+ objects that can be easily reused in future releases and development work."
Pioneering New Ways to Add Value for Customers
fileTRUST is aimed initially at the growing number of home offices and small business professionals such as lawyers, certified public accountants, and doctors who typically do not own costly backup file servers but need to ensure the safety and integrity of their files and records. The service is widely available to the public for a flat monthly fee. fileTRUST users can safely access and share documents anytime, anywhere Internet access is available. There is no set-up fee.
Active Server Pages provide file upload, download, and viewing. Users register using a simple profile screen. A file and folder view based on the familiar Windows file viewer helps users navigate through their file boxes. Help screens show how the system works. Users can also view billing history and information.
Users may securely and privately store and share their files at fileTRUST and, with a personal identification number and password, can easily upload, download, and view their files using the Web. The Microsoft Exchange-based online document storage system will let fileTRUST users expand memory capacity without having to upgrade personal hardware and ensures that vital files are protected from computer damage or system failure.
The system's many innovative features include the fact that it is geared toward customer self-service. "With Microsoft Exchange, we've created a solution where every user gets to create a file system and share it with anyone they want," Meth explains. "We prefer this option over direct contact by users with requests for file system changes."
Along with providing general document storage, fileTRUST allows users to designate guest access for the viewing of specific files in their secure area. In addition, Exchange 2000 provides many options for Fleet to easily expand fileTRUST's features going forward. In this way, the system serves as the cornerstone for other strategic applications such as document certification, project management, and workflow-facilitation across businesses.
By employing information technology based on open Internet standards, Fleet can increase profitability and capitalize on new revenue opportunities. Working with Microsoft partners, services, and products, the company is pioneering ways to differentiate itself from competitors in the eyes of its customers.
Microsoft Products Used:
Microsoft Exchange 2000 Server
Microsoft Internet Information Services 5.0
Microsoft SQL Server Enterprise Edition
Microsoft Windows Advanced 2000 Server
Microsoft Visual Studio 6.0

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