Citibank moves key apps to the Cloud

In 2015 Citibank’s Rahul Sinha, DevOps Lead for Asia and EMEA, started evaluating potential uses of cloud-technologies for application hosting and delivery. Two years later the bank has transferred a large portion of its commercial banking services onto the Cloud.

Financial firms have been slow in embracing the Cloud, a technology that makes use of remote computing delivered either through the internet (public Cloud) or via private servers (private Cloud). They were wary of exposing customer’s sensitive financial information to third parties.

But guidance issued by regulators such as the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority, which have given a green light to the Cloud, provided that the necessary controls are in place, has eased concerns. Led by the example of Capital One, the US bank that has stated it is moving all app development to the Cloud — provided by AWS — a growing number of banks are transferring key applications to the Cloud.

Citibank has made the move to transfer a number of applications and services from its consumer banking division onto a mix of public and private Cloud. Rahul Sinha is DevOps Lead for Asia and EMEA for Citibank. He has overseen the transition to the cloud, a process that started two years ago, and he will be a key-note speaker at the QA Financial Forum Singapore, presenting the results of the move to the Cloud.

Sinha said that the transition was conducted over three phases. The first was the development of APIs [Application Programme Interfaces, protocols that allow applications to communicate with each other], the second was the creation of micro-services, and the third was the move to the Cloud itself.

“Developing the APIs only took a few months. After that we started running micro-services. What this means is breaking down application functions into separate, smaller and connected applications. The advantage of this is that it allows you to find and repair any breakages faster,” said Sinha.

Only once the APIs and micro-services were in place did it make sense to migrate to the Cloud. The changes allowed the bank to leverage the speed provided by Cloud computing.

Three factors — quality, speed, and cost — went into the decision to migrate apps to the Cloud. “We measure everything, including customer satisfaction, in dollar value,” said Sinha. “We calculated the savings we could get by embarking on a cloud migration project and we realised that not only was it economically feasible, but that it would enable us to move faster, and better serve our customers.”

The move to the cloud allowed Citibank to vastly reduce the number of stakeholders involved in application project management. While a delivery timeline for an application in a legacy model involved coordinating disparate teams, the Cloud accelerated and automated many of these processes.

“Normally, developers would have to request a server from a platform team, additional resources from a middleware team, the construction of a database from a database team, a URL and load balancer from a network team, and finally a project manager to coordinate all of these teams,” said Sinha. “The Cloud allows them to bypass all of that; it sets up the necessary infrastructure to support the app with a click of a button. It is as simple as going to the ATM.”

Citibank can deliver changes on a daily basis instead of twice a week, allowing the bank to quickly respond to customer feedback and improve quality. And while there is an initial up-front cost for this, it has often proved to be cheaper in the long-run, said Sinha.

Accelerated code delivery times have increased the pressure on Citibank’s quality assurance team. While previously testers had a few days to finish their work before the next batch of code was delivered, they now found that they had a few hours. Sinha said that there was no way testers could keep up with the demands of testing manually: “There was a huge push to automate testing; everything from unit testing to source code analysis is now automated.”

In Singapore, the MAS has been supportive of the move to the Cloud. Sinha said this was because Citibank understood the importance of data sensitivity. “The only applications running on the public Cloud are those that contain non-sensitive information, like forms for submitting loan applications, or promotional materials.” All applications that handled private customer financial information are on the private Cloud.

Lots of applications are running in non-Cloud techstack. The decision to migrate applications on the Cloud are made on a case-to-case basis. “We evaluate the increase in business value provided by the application compared to effort of redesign the application for Cloud. Financial concerns always come first,” said Sinha.

Sinha’s job now is to keep up to date with the evolving offer of services and protocols that the Cloud can support. He believes that the future will see an expanding number of applications hosted on the Cloud: “It is being enhanced every day, and it will continue to add value to Citibank.”

Rahul Sinha will be speaking at the QA Financial Forum Singapore on May 25th on “Cloud DevOps – Application Development & Delivery”.

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