August 25, 2014
By John Stewart
Visa Inc. can now process a peak volume of 56,000 messages per second—a record high—and foresees no glitches resulting from a new card-number masking technology expected to go into production some time this fall.
Visa arrived at these results upon completing an annual stress test earlier this month in anticipation of the upcoming holiday shopping season. The test takes “five very long and grueling days,” Manny Trillo, senior vice president of network processing at Visa, tells Digital Transactions News, during which the network subjects its hardware and software to a range of scenarios up to and including a simulation of system outages.
“We’ll unplug channel directors, sometimes an entire storage array,” says Trillo. “We’ll do things we never expect to happen, such as a sudden loss of components or surges in volume so we’re ready to process any anomaly.” Using a third-party facility in Gaithersburg, Md., Visa tests both its operating system and specific business applications, he says.
One key result of this year’s test, the 22nd the company has conducted since 1992, is the finding that peak capacity has grown nearly 20% since last year’s 47,000 messages per second. “We pushed the system to new heights,” says Trillo. With the new peak volume number, Visa is in a position to handle a volume surge “in case we’re wildly successful,” Trillo says. It can also step in if needed when other systems fail, he adds. “We can be the backstop for the payments ecosystem,” he says.
As part of the volume test, Visa can vary both the speed and mix of transactions. “We can tweak it so we’ll see more of a type of transaction than we’ll see in real life,” Trillo says.
One new transaction type Visa, as well as other big networks, is likely to be processing by the time of the holiday rush is the tokenized payment. Both Visa and MasterCard Inc. have released specifications for this process, and Visa expects the first issuers to go live with it later in the year. With tokenization, issuers replace the actual card account number at the time of authorization with a randomly generated string of digits that is useless to data thieves. Typically, the message data are also protected by a cryptogram.
While Visa’s stress test couldn’t include actual tokenized transactions, Trillo says the test did yield a better understanding of the process and its expected impact on the network at volume. It helps, he says, that the tokens look just like account numbers, and so can be handled without changes in processing logic. “This helps smooth out implementation,” he says. “We understand it.”
In the end, Trillo says, Visa concluded tokenized transactions at the data center will look much like chip card transactions on the Eurocard-MasterCard-Visa (EMV) standard, which U.S. networks are moving to. A relatively small number of EMV cards are in circulation. “Tokenization will be in line with what we see with EMV,” he says.
Visa conducts this test annually because the network makes system changes throughout the year whose cumulative effect is hard to estimate without a new test. “We always learn a lot,” says Trillo, who has managed the stress test every year. “We need to ensure the latency is within tolerable limits.” Latency refers to delays in processing time.
Apparently, the system passed this latest test. “We confirmed with a high degree of comfort that we’ll be ready for the holiday period,” Trillo says.
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