Friday, 30 November 2018 11:34

NAB goes AWS

By
NAB executive general manager of business enabling technology Yuri Misnik NAB executive general manager of business enabling technology Yuri Misnik

National Australia Bank has set itself an aggressive target for moving applications to the cloud, and "AWS is our strategic partner", a bank executive told AWS's re:Invent conference.

NAB executive general manager of business enabling technology, Yuri Misnik, said the bank was investing $4.5 million in a three-year, cloud-first transformation project.

One year in, the bank is already running more than 100 applications on AWS, and has set the goal of running 35% of its applications in the cloud by the end of 2020. "This is a low bar for us," said Misnik, "we're aiming much higher." He expects to move another 300 applications in the next 12 months, and "hopefully more".

In what Misnik described as a "global first for the financial services industry", NAB last week moved the eFX package for foreign exchange onto AWS using EC2 and database servics.

The bank is piloting the use of Amazon Connect to replace some of its conventional contact centre software (enabling the use of technologies such as speech translation, sentiment analysis and compliance verification), and is using a broad range of AWS features — including Lambda, DynamoDB and Redshift — in various projects.

NAB intends to run some of its core banking applications in the cloud, something Misnik regards as the next big challenge. "We see a lot of benefits," he told iTWire, but as these are critical systems they need to be "100% bulletproof" which means taking vendor resiliency into account.

Candidates include systems that involve old software or old hardware, though some old but reliable on-premises systems such as the payments gateway are likely to be retained for some time.

"It starts with world-class security," Misnik said, so NAB is using modern architectures along with AWS's Well-Architected framework, with reviews embedded in project lifecycles.

These measures have become part of NAB's control and compliance framework, he said.

The transformation project includes the formation of the NAB Cloud Guild, which has trained 3000 engineers in AWS technologies, with 350 of them so far gaining AWS certification. According to NAB executive general manager of infrastructure and cloud Steve Day, training is being made available to all NAB staff, regardless of their current job.

New skills were required, but the talent shortage meant NAB could not rely on hiring new staff - hence the emphasis on talent creation. While that is a relatively long-term process, the bank is making the necessary investment, he said.

Day explained that the primary objective of the cloud-first transformation was to take back control of technology (NAB had previously used IBM as an outsourcer) in order to drive innovation for customers.

It also provides an opportunity to replace or renovate applications that are "many years old" and in some cases dependent on database software that has gone out of support. "We get to consider... options" for aligning workflows with more suitable databases, such as DynamoDB for key/value pairs.

The first target of moving 30 applications to the cloud within 50 days was initially viewed sceptically, he said, but "it actually went a lot better than we thought [it would].

"A lot of people were amazed we actually did it," he added.

The overall project has great executive support, said Day, noting that the entire board had visited the US to meet with major vendors (including AWS) and their customers.

NAB's involvement with AWS started around 2012 with (as is often the case) dev/test workloads. Other types were progressively added, including digital projects and analytics. 2017 saw the first production banking workloads after working with APRA to establish appropriate controls.

Successive migrations showed that while some refactoring of in-house applications was needed, the result was more resilient systems that are cheaper to run. For example, RDS (Relational Database Service) removes management overheads and enables automated deployment.

"Cloud is cheaper – we're saving money doing the same stuff," said Misnik. Databases on AWS are around 60% cheaper than their on-premises equivalents, he said, and one particular system cost $10,000 a month to run on-premises, but this has been reduced to $500 on AWS.

Most new applications are cloud-native. Examples include the NAB Data Hub (a data lake fed from hundreds of systems, and providing the ability to trace every data point back to its source), and Discovery Cloud (a workspace for analytics).

"Our engineering teams own what they build," said Misnik. "You build it, you run it. You break it, you fix it."

In retrospect, Misnik thinks the cultural change should have started earlier, not just within the IT function but also in terms of encouraging business users to think in terms of smaller but more frequent changes to systems.

While NAB's relationship with AWS is "really great," it is not exclusive. "We are very pragmatic," he told iTWire, and will use other providers where appropriate. For example, NAB uses Microsoft's Office 365.

"Competition is good," and given NAB's portfolio of around 2500 applications, "there's room for more than one partner."

Disclosure: The writer is an NAB shareholder, and attended AWS re:Invent as a guest of AWS.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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