Financial institutions, with a timely nudge from COVID-19, have woken up to the transformational potential of the Cloud. We spoke to Marcus Chambers, VP of Sales for EMEA at CloudHealth by VMware, about the shifting balance between private and public Cloud, and the importance of customer-centricity.
You have most likely seen software and digital infrastructure provider VMware in the headlines recently. And not in relation to financial services.
The firm has just finished work on the UK government’s much-publicised contract-tracing app for COVID-19. At the beginning of March, VMware Pivotal Labs partnered with NHSX, the technology innovation arm of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), to share insights into how software can be used to track the spread of the COVID-19 virus. In less than 24 hours, VMware had presented a proof of concept using low-energy Bluetooth technology on smartphones to detect users’ proximity. After further research, this led to NHSX spearheading a contact-tracing app to deliver on the crucial objective of identifying and notifying people who had been in contact with someone with the virus, while also capturing anonymised data to improve the scientific community’s understanding of how it spreads.
It’s also been announced in recent weeks that VMware is working closely with Intel on the accelerated rollout of 5G networks across the world, with the addition of an integrated software platform for virtualised radio access networks (VRAN). The two companies are teaming up to collaborate on the software platform to assist communications service providers (CSPs) with future 5G networks across a virtualised infrastructure.
VMware is helping the world to understand COVID-19 while also ensuring that we can communicate amidst the global disruption. These intensely urgent projects demonstrate the growing stature of the company, which acquired CloudHealth Technologies in 2018 to create CloudHealth by VMware, a core part of VMware’s multicloud management portfolio, which is also driving rapid digital transformation at financial institutions around the world. It’s servicing the growing demand for the Cloud’s enormous capacity for data handling, speed and flexibility of execution, particularly when it comes to product development and cost savings.
By focussing on the important digital foundations, CloudHealth empowers companies to go farther, faster – streamlining the journey to deliver better experiences to their customers as well as their employees. It works with hybrid Cloud and multi-Cloud environments and helps organisations to integrate on prem and Cloud-based solutions with business apps. Its customer base includes telecoms companies, big banks, ecommerce giants and a number of gaming businesses.
The company works in tandem with these clients to help them set up Cloud Centre of Excellence (CCoE) groups – cross-functional teams of professionals who are responsible for developing and managing the Cloud strategy, governance, and best practices that the rest of the organisation can then use to transform the wider business.
“Creating these teams well is the key,” says Marcus Chambers, CloudHealth’s VP of sales for EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa). “You then have all the governance and agility under one umbrella of compliance. It’s a very necessary first step.”
Among CloudHealth’s clients is South Africa’s financial services group, Discovery (see page 69), an existing VMware solutions customer that wanted help in simplifying its Cloud management and to improve reporting across 62 environments in the 12 countries it operated in. Aside from an immediate 40 per cent cost reduction, the advantages of employing CloudHealth and VMware Secure State solutions were improved risk mitigation and the ability to make more informed decisions around its AWS-provided services.
In terms of weighing up private and public Cloud, Chambers still sees room for both – at present. Public complements private. “There are now tools that CloudHealth and others offer that manage data centre applications as well as public Cloud, so it’s not a case of one or the other,” he says.
For legacy institutions, that allows them to ‘benefit from some very agile new applications that they can use to compete with challenger banks’, says Chambers. “They can spin out applications that are very customer-specific but also secure and fully compliant.”
The big bank awakening
The big banks were already warming to the many merits of Cloud computing, but COVID-19 has made the technology white hot. Just this summer, two of the biggest public Cloud providers struck deals with major banks: Amazon Web Services with HSBC and Google with Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank.
There is no doubt that COVID-19 has hastened the need for an architecture that allows for the rapid scaling up (and indeed scaling down) of services without accruing huge costs.“Customer experience is paramount,” says Chambers. “Banks need to maintain that in these unprecedented times, from the complexities of withdrawing cash, to asking for a mortgage, to maintaining the basic security of a general bank account.
“What we’ve seen with fintech and the wider verticals associated with COVID-19 and public Cloud is an elastic ability to take on more, and have the scale to rig up greater computing requirements. While it’s elastic enough to scale up, it’s also elastic enough to scale down. Struggling companies have been able to reduce their monthly spend in a software-as-a-service model by 80 per cent, which has allowed them to maintain the right business controls and customer experience. If we look at the airlines, the travel industry and so on, they’ll have that agility and the ability to scale it back up when things move forward.”
However, there is still a sense of nervousness about migrating incredibly complex systems, particularly business-critical components. To mitigate such
risks, Chambers advocates a staging post approach to moving from private to public.
“We have an offering with cashless payments provider VMC to be able to manage a private Cloud environment on Amazon infrastructure, so it gives organisations that staging post to the public Cloud,” he explains. “They’re then adopting the huge scale and ability of Amazon, but with the ability to carefully manage that environment without the huge upfront cost, without the huge over-provisioning, so you get more of that public Cloud agility, but with the feel of your own private infrastructure.”
There is equally a widespread concern about hitching one’s wagon to a single Cloud provider, hence CloudHealth’s continued emphasis on hybrid and multi Cloud systems. That said, however many staging posts an organisation uses, it does appear that public Cloud is the ultimate destination for the industry.
“Artificial intelligence (AI) is a logical example,” says Chambers. “Everyone is already using many more algorithms and, with AI becoming more meaningful, quicker, and smarter, I believe that public Cloud becomes the natural platform to best deliver it.
“We’ve seen a lot of financial companies start to embrace the public Cloud. If we turn the clock back there was a reservation around whether it was secure enough, whether it was compliant. What we’ve seen over the last couple of years, though – particularly with the three horsemen of Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure and AWS – is increasingly secure environments, complemented by offerings like CloudHealth and VMware Standard Switch that are enabling organisations to be agile and deliver applications quickly with limited upfront costs.”
Commentators agree. According to Gartner’s public Cloud forecast, for example, the market will grow to $320billion by 2022. That’s nearly three times the growth of overall IT services. Organisations need to be bold as they step on to this higher plane. But with partners like CloudHealth supporting the transition, they should be confident in moving up.