A helping hand through the new digital landscape
Data centres are increasingly the engines that drive business for financial services institutions in a highly competitive and rapidly evolving market. Improving the efficiency of the data centre is, therefore, a key priority for banks, though it involves many critical decisions and a significant amount of investment. As technology and organisational options around the management of data increase, it is more important than ever to make these decisions the right ones.
"It is an interesting time for our clients," remarks Neil Eke, Computacenter's director for the financial services sector. "Data centre assets are very costly. They are complicated to manage and run, and have grown in many organisations through acquisitions, which just adds to the complexity. We continue to see a move away from monolithic-based outsourcing to tower-based outsourcing - not only in the banking industry, but also with many of our other enterprise customers - as they seek to get best-of-breed partners in each of those towers."
The rise of the cloud
Computacenter is Europe's leading independent provider of IT infrastructure services and advises many global organisations on IT strategy, technology implementation and optimisation, and the management of their IT infrastructure. Its goal is to help CIOs and IT departments to maximise productivity and the business value of IT for internal and external users. Eke is responsible for all retail banking, investment banking, insurance and audit firm clients, among which are some of the world's leading names in each of those industries. He has witnessed outsourcing trends develop, and the game-changing impact of the cloud, which has reshaped data centre strategies.
"The biggest shift that has occurred within the past five years is towards the cloud," he explains. "If you go back a few years, everything was going to be in the cloud, and companies in the market would go out of business because the traditional market to which they sold would no longer be a reality. Since then, the maturity of how organisations will use cloud services has settled, and organisations of the size and complexity of banks from across commercial and public sector are choosing a hybrid IT world.
Some workloads will be off-premise and others will be on-premise. The job going forward will be to maximise the capability of cloud services in a very secure and compliant way."
Eke has also seen an increase in clients automating their assets in order to be more agile and to enable them to respond to the needs of the industry more effectively than in the past.
"This is quite challenging when you look at the legacy estate they have in their data centres," he says. "Many have spent time automating the computer, storage and network layers. They are also beginning to automate through the stack and increase the speed of execution across the piece rather than in certain silos."
Leveraging the legacy estate
For banks, there are many challenges to overcome in finding the optimal data centre solution, but for Eke the biggest of these is the long shadow of legacy systems.
"The legacy infrastructure does hold a lot of organisations back. One day, the technology of today will be legacy because the IT industry is moving faster than it ever has before, and that acceleration of pace does not look to be slowing. Banks have to get to grips with the new technologies that are coming to market and how they can use those to deliver better services to either employees or customers. At the same time they must grapple with the complexity of the legacy world.
"People said the mainframe would be dead by now, yet it had its 50th birthday a couple of years ago and is still going strong in a lot of institutions, underpinning many of the core banking applications for some of our big clients," he explains.
Legacy infrastructures have a place, despite digital advancements. It is essential that these new technologies co-exist with legacy - they cannot simply replace them - and companies must evolve in order to do so effectively. And this is where Computacenter comes in. The company helps its clients to remove assets they no longer need and to virtualise those they require. As Eke explains, "with the increase in compute power you can get rid of many racks in your data centre by moving to new platforms. There is a lot of hard work that goes on to minimise the impact and cost of those legacy systems."
Another challenging factor is that ageing infrastructure is often fixed to a physical location, and many companies are loathe to move some of these old assets due, in part, to costly vendor support. "By way of an example, we have a core competency of providing mainframe services to our customers, helping them to move to new platforms, and putting them on new operating systems such as Linux," says Eke. "So, it is about helping them to consolidate those environments so that they can be maintained in a more cost-effective way."
In one recent long-term project, Computacenter helped a major bank to rework its Windows and IBM Power estate. This involved consolidating thousands of servers, replatforming the environment and working closely with the customer to move the relevant workloads. Computacenter does the heavy lifting, but the client has the in-depth knowledge of the applications. A team of on-site consultants and engineers assessed and understood what the new environment would look like for the customer, where it should be geographically located, and what the performance of that environment needed to be to support the applications and workloads being moved.
For Eke, there is a compelling need to rework legacy systems in a focused and intelligent way in order to avoid any negative impact on customers and services.
"There are many examples in the press where banks have had issues with ATM environments or mobile access for their customers, and in many cases the environment has sat on legacy platforms," he says. "They can have a huge impact on access to data or cash for customers. That is potentially quite damaging to the organisation. The complexity of legacy environments is often the problem, and the age of the technology can be a major factor in resolving those problems in a timely manner.
"But banks are moving away from that. They are now looking at new, cloud-native applications and building them on greenfield infrastructures while they consolidate legacy assets," he continues. "They look closely at which applications they can move to a cloud-ready environment without having to go through many of the challenges around consolidating and migrating assets. Many of our clients have moved HR and CRM systems, for example, to private cloud services because they are relatively straightforward to lift and shift."
In the broadest sense, all banks face similar challenges in the drive to optimise their data centres, but when it gets down to the detail, every institution will have its own problems to solve.
"Our services help our clients to find the best technology fit, and then we manage those environments for them," says Eke. "Not everything is on-premise. The hybrid IT concept is well established in the marketplace, so we naturally incorporate cloud services within our portfolio. This means finding the services that are fit for purpose, migrate the workload, and manage the cloud and on-premise environments as they need."
Digital transformation extends way beyond just the data centre. Another key pillar of Computacenter's solutions is its digital workplace offering, Digital Me, which addresses the core organisational needs of improving user experience, enhancing collaboration and supporting growth with a more efficient, enabled and engaged workforce. It focuses on engaging people across the organisation with the reasons for the transformation process, and to encourage user adoption of new systems by articulating how the digital workplace helps people to work more productively.
"It is about access across different platforms to get to the applications they want," says Eke. "Also, more people may not want to work behind a desk. They may be more productive working while travelling. Digital Me addresses how we work with the digital technology to be more productive in a shorter time."
Computacenter guides its banking customers through every aspect of digital transformation from the data centre to the workplace. Combined with its expertise and experience of delivering secure, robust networks and seamlessly integrated IT security solutions, it has true end-to-end capability to make the digital environment work for its banking customers.