The QA Financial expert interview: David Young, Metro Bank

David Young (pictured), CTO, talks about his firm’s move to the cloud, how he chose Rackspace, a cloud computing company, as a partner, how the move sped up processing time, what it takes to implement DevOps, and the challenges he faces.

When the UK’s Metro Bank moved its app development and testing to the Cloud, it hired Rackspace and dropped AWS, the global market leader in cloud services. David Young, Metro Bank’s CTO, explains why.

Metro Bank, a UK commercial and retail bank founded in 2010, has achieved significant operational efficiencies, as well as enhanced its DevOps capabilities, by transferring all of its apps and its production, development, and test environments, to the cloud. The bank chose Rackspace, a Texas-based cloud computing company, to host the private cloud.

Launched in 2010, it is no longer the UK’s newest challenger bank.  But Metro Bank is on a roll, and it is still winning market share. On December 16th, Metro Bank’s CTO David Young was attending the opening of Metro Bank’s 47th branch. Ten more will open in 2017, the bank says. And its shareholders have seen that growth reflected in the outperformance of Metro Bank’s share price; up more than 50% since its IPO last March.

Metro Bank has seized the opportunity to invest in its IT infrastructure and has this year moved its app production, development and testing environments to the cloud. Open source and proprietary development test tools all now sit on the private cloud operated by Rackspace, the Texas-base cloud services provider. 

Moving to a single cloud platform has cut costs, says Metro Bank, and delivered a 50% reduction in the time taken for close-of-business processing; the overnight processing of the banks daily retail customer transactions.

Q: When did you decide to move all your apps to the cloud?

We made the decision two years ago, in 2014, and the project itself took one year. We wanted to find a partner to help with migrating our apps and we looked for a company that was flexible, scalable, and agile, and whose culture was similar to our own. We ended up settling on Rackspace.

We made the decision to move to the cloud to improve our processing time and make use of the technical support provided by Rackspace to move towards a DevOps approach and improve our time-to-market.

We moved all the apps hosted by a previous provider into Rackspace’s data centres and we used the move as an opportunity to upgrade our connectivity, hardware, and software.

Q: What drives your outsourcing decisions? Do you try and minimise the amount of vendors you work with?

Commercial considerations play a part, but we are not necessarily concerned about the number of partners we have. We are looking for the best partner. We placed a premium on the support they provided and on sharing a similar culture.

Q: How did moving to the cloud speed up your processing and reporting time?

There were significant technological developments in hardware since the bank went live in 2010. When we migrated our apps on the Rackspace’s cloud, we used that as an opportunity to upgrade our equipment. Rackspace helped us manage the data centres – they help set up our systems so that once the migration was complete, close-of-business processing went from taking four hours to taking two.

Our customers also saw the benefits of this. For example, we knocked off two seconds of logging-in time for our mobile app.

Q: What challenges did you encounter? Did the move to the cloud coincide with a change in tooling?

You could compare the migration project to trying to change all four wheels of your car while it is moving. We were migrating the bank’s apps while continuing our day-to-day operations. We did it by breaking it down into a series of migrations – incrementally. It does carry risk, but we managed it, and it went seamlessly. The migration to the cloud was on time, on budget, and most importantly, none of our clients knew that it was happening.

We also were able to invest in new tooling. Previously our test and development environments were hosted on AWS. Once production systems were moved to Rackspace, we decided to transfer our test and development capability as well.

This was done for a couple of reasons: there are economies of scale when you do a large volume of business with just one vendor, so that is a commercial consideration. The other reason is that they offered strong technical support in implementing DevOps. A cloud service provider might offer great tools, but if they do not help you use them then they are useless.

Q: How does the cloud help with DevOps?

My personal view is that what is important is not who manages your data – or where it is hosted – as much as the support they are able to provide. We wanted support that would let us make changes very quickly.

As far as tools and services go, we use a mix of open source tools and tools recommended to us by Rackspace. Where it all comes together is people. We have people from Rackspace in our offices everyday. They are technically sound and willing to help.

Q: What impact will PSD2  (the European Union’s Directive on Payment and Services, which will force banks to open up their APIs to third parties) have on your business? 

I think it offers a tremendous opportunity. It gives our customers more options. For example, a customer will be able to log-in to one site and see the bank accounts they hold across many different banks. We think that is great. It is a big programme and one of the most exciting projects that the IT team is working on.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

I have two challenges. The first is to make sure that the services we offer continue to match what customers want. That will be a challenge for as long as we continue to do business.

My second challenge is to find and recruit people to deliver those services. Our bank is built on technology, but that technology is maintained by people. We’re an organisation that is growing extremely quickly and we need to be able to recruit the right people to meet that technical demand.

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