SPARTANBURG, S.C.-Carolina Foothills FCU (CFFCU) here knew it was time to ask for IT help when it merged with nearby Community 1 CU. CFFCU, after all, is migrating to Community's core system, and Community is adopting CFFCU's managed IT services.

"We just don't have the expertise to complete the merger in-house," explained Bill Caldwell, third-party coordinator at the $75-million CU. So CFFCU turned to Safe Systems of Alpharetta, Ga.

CFFCU may not have had the funds, either. "We would have had to hire at least two temporary staff to do what Safe is doing for us," said Candy Franklin, VP-operations, CFFCU. "We're paying Safe one-third of what we'd have to pay for two staff."

The first step in uniting the two credit unions was creating a common backbone network, Caldwell said. The backbone, a voice and data solution from Windstream Corp. of Little Rock, Ark., allows the hodgepodge servers and phone hardware at the two credit unions to interact.

"Now we can talk to Community 1, and they can talk to us," Caldwell said. The CUs can securely share documents and send e-mail via Microsoft Exchange servers. CFFCU, which doesn't have an optical storage system, can view Community 1 documents through Community 1's optical storage system.

"We can function as one credit union, even though we still run on two different data processors," added Franklin.

Back Support

The backbone project would have failed without Safe Systems, Franklin continued. "If we had done the backbone ourselves, we would have never completed it. There's just so much coordination necessary between third parties. We would have forgotten some major piece."

Safe Systems suggested that CFFCU install one load-balanced, core processing router at the CFFCU main branch and one at the Community 1 main branch, Caldwell said. Previously, the CU had separate routers connecting each of six locations to the core system.

"We had our blinders on thinking that separate routers at every location was the only way to go," Franklin said.

Now all six branches connect through one of the two routers, and two branches are connected to one another for disaster recovery (DR).

The result: CFFCU pays for two routers and data lines instead of six, said Franklin. The DR plan is strengthened because two of the branches act as failover sites for each other.

The new backbone paves the way for CFFCU to smoothly transition in February to the Symitar Episys system that Community 1 uses, Caldwell said. Next month, Safe Systems will help the merged CUs deploy a new telephone system that integrates with Microsoft Exchange.

A Safe Systems regulatory compliance manager offers CFFCU guidance on data security and disaster recovery, Franklin said. "We wear so many different hats, and we can't be the expert on compliance."

The NetComply service from Safe Systems automatically monitors CFFCU servers and workstations and sends alerts about potential problems with disks, memory, processors and operating systems. NetComply helps ensure that servers are secure and compliant, Caldwell said.

A security vulnerability identified by Safe Systems was that employees didn't consistently log off from their workstations when they stepped away, Caldwell said. "Anyone could have come in behind you and accessed sensitive data. Now logons time out in 15 minutes."

Thanks to Safe Systems, CFFCU instantly distributes Microsoft and anti-virus software patches from a central server to the approximately 80 computers and 13 servers on the network. That's instead of "running around to every computer on the network and installing the upgrades," said Caldwell. "Before, some of it just didn't get done, so we'd often have to wipe computers affected by viruses."

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