AFTAs 2017: Best Cloud Initiative—Northern Trust

2017 AFTAs

It’s easy to think that after years of discussion, cloud is old hat for financial services firms. But the process of fully moving to a cloud-based architecture requires not only a change in technology but also in the mindset of developers, as Northern Trust discovered.

The firm has historically been one of the most forward-thinking when it comes to cloud, and had put in place a private infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) cloud already. Over the course of 2016 to 2017, it deployed platform and containers-as-a-service (PaaS and CaaS) into the environment, built largely on software-defined infrastructure.

“It was a natural evolution of our cloud strategy, where we have been so focused on IaaS, PaaS and Containers etc., and the reality is that to truly benefit from speed to market, you have to shift your mindset to a software-defined world,” says Vijay Luthra, senior vice president of infrastructure engineering and operations at Northern Trust. “While IaaS-PaaS is great and defines certain cloud technologies, we felt that to get the most out of developer productivity, and the most value for our clients and business, it made sense to start focusing on software-defined infrastructure, with an overall vision of frictionless infrastructure.”

This wasn’t just a case of deciding to move to a software-defined world and making it so, however. It required the creation of a specialized DevOps team within the firm, one which could move seamlessly between various disciplines in order to encourage the rapid growth and adoption of these platforms.

“We established a DevOps team of multi-skilled, what Gartner calls ‘versatilists,’” Luthra explains. “The goal was to bring a bunch of folks with multi skills—app dev, infrastructure, middleware etc.—to form that initial team, to help get the project started.”

Northern Trust has already identified significant benefits from the initiative, moving hundreds of micro-services onto the PaaS platform and more than a dozen traditional applications to the CaaS platform. It has also automated code deployments into the environments, and plans to achieve a 40-50 percent reduction in web infrastructure over the next 12 to 24 months, thanks to consolidation in the containers. The job is not yet finished, however. “Clearly there are areas where we either need to do the same thing, or reskill and hire more versatilists,” Luthra continues. “The whole software-defined network space is a huge area of opportunity and we need to get it right. So I would say it’s a process that’s in the works, but we’ve taken some very sound steps.”

As for what those next steps constitute, Luthra says the team is focused on “constraints,” in terms of identifying the areas where developers are being slowed down, and where the bank is experiencing bottlenecks in moving faster on time-to-market for clients. “That is where we will make investments,” he says. 

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