The Commonwealth Bank of Australia CIO and group executive for enterprise services, Michael Harte, is serious about cloud computing. CBA wants to buy software and infrastructure as a service over a network and Harte sits on the Enterprise Cloud Leadership Council. In this extensive interview, he talks to CIO about his vision for cloud computing and the opportunity it presents to break vendor lock and create contestability.
What are the key elements of your cloud computing strategy?
Harte: For a couple of years we’ve been working on cloud computing. But more accurately, because cloud computing is quite amorphous, all we want to do is buy software and infrastructure as a service over a network. We only want to pay for what we use. And we only want to pay on demand. So we are looking to create standards that are open, component oriented and service oriented, so that we ‘free up’ the economics. We want to get out of infrastructure computing and into fine-grain components and highly granular data, so that our customers enjoy new services. This is not about some technical breakthrough. This is about supplying customers the services they want — and doing that at value.
So the technology becomes the means to execute the strategy?
You got it.
Is there anything you can say about the things you’re looking at and what we might actually see happen from you in the near term?
Let’s talk about it in three ways, under the umbrella of the ‘Enterprise Cloud Leadership Council’, and the three things that are being pursued there.
The first thing is the accelerated establishment of standards. If you get any big group of people together it tends to look like the United Nations. We don’t want that. We want an agile and fast forming group that can create standards. We published the first standard — ‘virtual machine capability’ in the mid range. We have X86 machines, which are your midrange servers and they’re operating on the Linux platform, and that allows you to build your own capabilities within the corporation.
So the virtual private cloud or a public cloud [is created] by using the same technology and importing some of those activities outside the corporation. We work with companies like Savvis and Amazon, and we can run application development and testing domains privately inside or publically outside the corporation, and we can scale those up within minutes. We can make them production scale. Once we’ve developed and tested those capabilities, and they’re operating at full production, we can determine whether they stay outside in the public cloud or [should be] brought back inside the corporation.
All of that’s provisioned within minutes, rather than days and weeks, and allows for a very nimble ‘pay as you go‘ service capability. And you can determine whether you want to run that securely and privately inside the corporation or whether you can get adequate security and run that outside the corporation.
Are you able to talk about any of the specific activities that you have enacted in a cloud-based model?
Let’s talk about two: The first one we developed ourselves, and in doing so, we shared with other corporations. Not just banking corporations, but companies in pharmaceutical industries, or manufacturing industries, or distribution industries — the database as a service. We’ve provisioned that on Oracle, and we have collaborated to build a really good, comprehensive stack of database services from front to back. We can provision that really quickly, and we are prepared to share it with others, to say: ‘Look, this is safe, this is secure, this is good. You guys can learn and adopt and adapt this stuff as well. You don’t have to be trying to invent this on your own.’
The second set is that there are infrastructure investments that can be made that can free up resources, so that we’re not having to tie up a whole lot of assets and activities in utility-style computing and take a long time to do it.
We’ve put .Net and ‘net apps’ on top of our own development capability. And we also have it running through servers and on top of Amazon, so we can run test and dev environments inside and outside the organisation. We’ve done that using a whole different set of development tools and testing tools, and we’ve put them on top of public infrastructure. And we’ve been able to point internal and external developers at those resources. We can provision those in under 10 minutes and we can do it at up to a tenth of the cost; so there’s great advantages for being able to provision for big projects.
What percentage of the server resources within the bank would actually be used for test and dev at the moment?
I think it can sometimes be up to around 40 per cent of all the compute.
Which obviously wouldn’t all be moved out of the organisation, but there’s a huge amount of scope to play with, isn’t there?
That’s right. We are not doing it to try and move everything to the cloud. A lot of people think: ‘They make a generalised cloud statement and they’re trying to put everything in the cloud’. That’s a little bit superficial. There are just certain types of activity that we would move and then create value by getting that machine arbitrage at lower costs. That then frees up that money to be put to other purposes, so you can do other things with those resources.