Standard Chartered Bank follows open source path

Standard Chartered Bank is running its wholesale and retail banking systems in nine countries almost entirely on open source...

Standard Chartered Bank is running its wholesale and retail banking systems in nine countries almost entirely on open source software. In a series of stealth projects, starting in Pakistan and Dubai, the bank built its systems from the ground up and plans to extend them to five more countries over the next two years.

"The only thing in those countries that is not open source is the IBM Websphere application server - and that is going open source next year," said Carl Ricketts, chief technology officer for Standard Chartered Bank speaking at a high-level breakfast meeting run by the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists earlier this year.

Ricketts said the open source system put the bank, which operates in 53 countries, "three to five years ahead of the game".

Ricketts is no stranger to innovation, as he was responsible for setting up the first online insurance system, based on Unix, when IT director at Churchill Insurance in the 1990s.

One major benefit of going open source is a reduction in desktop costs - which for Standard Chartered are more than datacentre costs. Ricketts estimated that having Linux on many thousands of desktops, based on Sun Microsystems and Red Hat software, has brought a tenfold annual reduction in the cost of each desktop for the next five to seven years.

"We have got off the Microsoft treadmill," he said. "Now we are open source I am master of our own destiny. I can change the operating system or open new branches whenever we want to."

Ricketts added that it was an advantage being able to get the systems right overseas. "If we had been doing the same job in the UK we would probably have had more pushback," he said.

Several software houses have approached the bank wanting to buy its open source banking system, giving it a value 10 times greater than the cost of development, Ricketts said.

The watchwords for Ricketts are "appropriate technology in the appropriate place".

There are extreme variations in appropriateness. On the one hand the bank has a state-of-the-art seven-year datacentre outsourced operation in Hong Kong and Singapore, giving a 33% saving on cost per Mips, and a 75% saving by disc. On the other hand, it uses D0s-based 286 PCs in the Ivory Coast.

"Power outages for three days at a time in the Ivory Coast is not conducive to a good Windows environment," said Ricketts. "But with the Dos machines, when the power goes down the operating system goes off and when the power comes back the operating system comes back on. So customers are happy."

WCIT breakfast meetings

The Worshipful Company of Information Technologists is running a series of high-level breakfast meetings for senior decision makers in the IT community. The programme is part of the company's work to uphold a long tradition among London's City livery companies of furthering and upholding the standards, integrity and professionalism of their trade. Other activities promoted by the livery company focus on charity and education.

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