A more stable IT environment, increased virtualisation and less human error are just some of the benefits Brisbane-based Suncorp Bank have achieved since commencing a major Cloud computing project in 2007.
Speaking at the Implementing Information Infrastructure Symposium (IIIS) in Sydney this week -- co-hosted by Computerworld Australia and SNIA ANZ -- senior technology architect, Ross Windsor, said that the decision to move to the Cloud was originally based on the need to migrate a number of data centres to create a smaller data centre footprint.
"The data centre transformation that we undertook was over nine months [starting in 2007] and that transformation was driven by virtualisation," he said. "We have reduced our data centre footprint by 50 per cent and had a 40 per cent reduction inside the data centre in network equipment and the complexities that go with that.
"Our storage is run at 90 per cent so it is a completely thin provisioned and de-duplicated environment."
Another reason behind the move to the Cloud was to reduce the likelihood of human error within the IT environment through the use of automation.
"We wanted [ the Cloud] to be faster and repeatable because the automation gives you assurances that no matter where you deploy a service, it's always deployed in the same manner without human hands touching it," he said.
"Therefore error rates or issues with that environment when it comes time to patch it and perform maintenance tasks are extremely limited in risk."
Turning to virtualisation, Windsor said the bank made used of virtual hosts and x86 virtualization in the networking layer. To achieve this, Suncorp spent a lot of time implementing a network which was self-managed so it could have "total control," he said.
Suncorp used mid-range IBM AIX and Sun Microsystems virtualisation systems during the project.
"What we achieved from a consolidation view point was to take six major data centres, virtualize them and than move those workloads across to two primary data centres that is now Suncorp's production environment," Windsor said.
He added that Suncorp had deployed 85 per cent server virtualisation technology and, according to Windsor, this put it in the top 10 per cent in the world for most virtualised major enterprise organisations.
Because of the high amount of virtualisation, the bank has implemented monitoring to ensure that it has the capability well covered off from an availability perspective.
"Well managed, you get that type of density on your storage utilisation. In our database services both on SQL and Oracle we have had shared services in place since 2005," he said. "We've been able to incorporate those into our Cloud and put self service provisioning of those data bases on our current platforms."
To ensure security and control, the bank developed its own internal private Cloud and is now looking a hybrid Cloud which includes the internal private Cloud and the deployment of Software as a Service [SaaS].
Windsor said Suncorp had gone and built its entire Cloud inhouse because it wanted to be flexible and generic so that the bank could implement any service that it wanted to into the Cloud.
Cloud computing is made of a number of different topics for Suncorp, with the first being automation.
"Many of you will have a significant amount of automation already in your environment, particularly if it is an enterprise environment," he said. "We did a lot of work before we built our private Cloud around preparing for standardisation of services and developing a service based operating model."
The second was independent resource pooling that is independent of location so IT staff can move storage around at will within the environment between different pools of resources in the data centre, and across data centres for disaster recovery.
"You also need rapid elasticity so what we have done inside Suncorp is, for instance, when we had the recent floods in Brisbane we were able to scale our environment on demand to give our people remote access and also scale systems that were required to underpin the claims process dynamically during that time," Windsor said.
The bank used remote access when the whole of the Brisbane CBD shut down so staff could work from home or from other branch offices not in the CBD.
The third was security in the Cloud, and while Windsor acknowledged that IT managers had a number of "concerns" about security in the Cloud, he believed that it had managed to strengthen security through good planning.
"Multi tenancy actually improves Cloud and the security profile inside the organisation," he said.
However, the move to the Cloud has not been a case of smooth sailing for the bank with Windsor admitting that it encountered some security problems during the development phase of its internal Cloud.
"Security and the ability to self provision firewall rules as part of the Cloud offering has been a challenge but we've been able to overcome those by changing our firewall technology to Palo Alto firewalls," he said. However, Windsor did not say which firewall vendor it was previously working with.
Now that the Cloud program was complete, the bank is now moving to a virtual desktop environment so by the middle of 2012 it plans to have its entire organisation of 16,000 people across Australia running virtual desktops.
This would mean 70 per cent of staff would be running Citrix session desktops and the other 30 per cent on a virtual desktop offering whereby there would be an image of the operating system sitting on a VMware server in Suncorp's Brisbane data centre.
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