Bankwest bets big on OpenStack

The open source project is central to the bank’s greenfield application development

Bankwest employs software-as-a-service and public cloud services from AWS and Azure, but a private OpenStack-based cloud increasingly underpins the bank’s applications

All new applications built by Bankwest will be deployed on OpenStack, according to Geoff Stewart.

Stewart, technical lead, configuration automation, at the bank, told the inaugural OpenStack Australia Day that the bank had been using the open source cloud platform in production for around eight months.

His interest in OpenStack started with its potential as a platform to deliver identical test, staging and production environments, to smooth application deployment.

“At the bank we have really rigid but necessary change control for moving our applications between environments,” Stewart said

In about 2010 Stewart started looking at the potential for automating the creation of its test environments. Of interest was quicker discovery of flawed code and speedier deployment.

“Given the environments were built using automation, then maybe we could start to relax some of the stringent change control we had about moving our applications between the environments,” he said.

However, most of the bank’s applications were a “thin veneer” over its mainframe, so the potential benefits seemed fairly limited at the time.

But a few years ago Stewart’s Configuration Automation Team joined the bank’s infrastructure services division – Tech Ops – and began looking at the management of test environments.

The analysis found that it could take six weeks to stand up an environment, and found that up to 70 per cent of the machines seemed unused with zero network activity.

That study led to kicking off proof of concept projects around infrastructure as a service, and ultimately to OpenStack.

The use of OpenStack has delivered significant cost savings by making greenfield development simpler, faster and more reliable, Sean Langton, Bankwest’s head of solution engineering, told a Cebit cloud conference earlier this week.

“A lot of our legacy applications are still rather monolithic; they were built 10 to 15 years ago,” he said. “All of our modern applications that have been built on OpenStack and with our new API are dramatically simpler.”

The use of OpenStack is part of a philosophical realignment the bank has undergone, he said.

“Bank’s just naturally aren’t open by default,” Langton said. “When I joined the bank we explicitly forbade the use of open source technology -- until we quickly realised you simply can’t forbid it: It’s everywhere.”

The bank has had a significant shift in attitude, and now contributes code (including some related to its OpenStack deployment) back to open source communities.

That “open” approach has been extended to the bank’s architecture, Langton said.

“Previously, and with such a large tech community and strong engineering DNA [in Bankwest], we built all our own solutions ourselves,” he said.

“When we look at the amount of innovation going on in the fintech world, we recognise we can’t do it all ourselves – we’ve got to be open to using other people’s solutions.”

“We’re having to change our default setting and be a lot more open as a result -- with all the normal security and controls around it, but starting to look at opening our borders and partnering with other organisations.”

“We’re very much on a journey to opening up through our API,” Langton said.

“We have started to deploy a very standardised way of accessing our core banking functions through RESTful, JSON APIs and that then opens us up to a world of third-party apps, whether they’re from fintech players, [or] from other developers as well as our own apps.”

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