Westpac to stick with mainframes

Bank has no plans to use external cloud or reduce mainframe numbers, says mainframe chief engineer

Mainframes will still be in use in the future for Westpac Group despite the bank’s stated goal to reduce costs through its IT transformation strategy known as the strategic investment program (SIP).

Speaking at a BMC Software press briefing in Sydney, Westpac mainframe chief engineer Glenn Bowden said that the banking group currently operates a total of 10 mainframes with six used by Westpac, two utilised by St George and the other two mainframes located in New Zealand to serve its operations there.

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Westpac’s mainframes are located in Sydney across two sites for disaster recovery and failover purposes.

According to Bowden, it has the “right number” of mainframes for the workflow that the bank handles with no plans to reduce mainframes or consider public cloud services.

“We have been running what I would consider an internal cloud on a mainframe for many years through the fact that we share environments across multiple machines,” he said.

“I don’t think in the foreseeable future that we would look at external cloud for mainframes. It’s just not viable because of data and security issues.”

According to Bowden, mainframes are still the best platform for high volume transaction processing.

In terms of transaction volumes, he said the bank is seeing upwards of 20 per cent year on year growth. This growth is due to the rise of mobile banking with Westpac customers eager to check their account on either a smartphone or tablet.

“It used to be that our capacity was driven by a finite number of retail outlets because there is only a certain amount of automatic teller machines [ATMs] and tellers so we could determine how much capacity we needed,” Bowden said.

However, there is no longer any real quiet time for Bowden and his mainframe team because of online and mobile banking transactions.

“My quietest time is the early hours of Sunday but Australians are still out there spending money in hotels around the world and I have to cover that. There is an expectation that customers can access money 24/7.”

Another issue Bowden faces is finding mainframe staff in Australia or overseas. To overcome this, the bank is mentoring younger mainframe team members and is also in talks with an Australian university which offers mainframe components as part of its ICT degree.

“The key issue is not finding COBOL programmers,” he said.

“The hard part is finding the guys who know how the system hangs together — the professionals who take full responsibility for the machine.”

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