Nationwide banks on virtual testing of online services

Nationwide uses a virtualised environment for testing new internet banking services to cut costs and development time

Nationwide uses a virtualised environment to test its new internet banking system to cut costs and development time for new online services.

The bank is using CA's Lisa Virtualise software to create copies of its 36 back-end systems to enable testers to try out software in a virtual live environment. CA acquired the technology when it bought ITKO for $330m last year.

The company is moving towards becoming a full service bank and is currently going through a £1bn transformation project. The virtualisation of testing is part of this, said Andy Armstrong, testing best practice manager at Nationwide.

Nationwide, which launched the first online bank 12 years ago, had added functionality over the years. "About two years ago, we realised we needed do something because it had become clunky," said Armstrong.

Virtual performance testing

The bank hired a third party to create and test the system, but when it came to performance testing, it sought a quicker and less costly method than building a copy of the live environment.

For performance testing of its online banking system, Nationwide sought a quicker and less costly method than building a copy of the live environment

Nationwide's internet banking platform links to 36 systems, including its Unisys mainframe-based customer database, which has 16 million records on it. All these systems link to the internet bank, so each of them has to be recreated to enable testing.

Armstrong said to create a live version of the database would require specialist skills, making it expensive and time consuming. “To roll out a copy of the customer database would cost a seven-figure sum. Although the database is an extreme case, there are 35 other systems that have to be recreated for a live test,” he said.

Using CA's Lisa Virtualise, Nationwide was able to provide a virtual copy of the systems for its third party supplier to link to for the final testing.

While the cost savings on hardware, processing power and human resources are huge, the speed at which new services can be rolled out is as important. “If, for example, you can put a new current account out before your competitors, it is an advantage,” said Armstrong.

Building on initial success

The success of the internet banking testing project has raised the likelihood of the virtualised testing to be used on other projects. Armstrong said the bank usually has more than 100 projects running at any one time, and Lisa is currently used in 6% to 10% of software projects. “We are probably on the second rung of the ladder and will use this to test other projects," he said.

Armstrong said winning over stakeholders was more of a challenge than the technology when the project was being proposed. “The technology is only one part of the challenge – it is the people that are more difficult. The project was a bit scary for a company as old as Nationwide,” he said.

Since Nationwide's rebuilt internet bank went live in October 2011, there have been no failures, said Armstrong.

According to research from software quality tester Cast, the average big application costs an extra £2.23m as a result of problems with the code that need to be fixed after software goes live.

Using automated analysis tools, Cast’s Report on Application Software Health (CRASH) analysed 365 million lines of code within 745 large software applications belonging to 160 companies in 10 countries.

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