Gartner Symposium: RBS emulates Amazon with private cloud

Royal Bank of Scotland has developed a private cloud to support its application development process, using Amazon best practices

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has developed a private cloud to support its application development process, using Amazon best practices.

The project has enabled RBS to determine running costs of its IT infrastructure, and provide service-based pricing.

The self-service cloud, available through a portal allows developers to provision Red Hat Linux, SQL Server 2008 R2, Windows Server 2008 to deploy servers for their applications. 

The service is being used by over 100 teams. Adoption within RBS is being spread by word of mouth.

Cost of the cloud

Speaking at the Gartner Symposium in Barcelona, Rhys Jones, head of engineering, RBS market technology division, said the project was started because the bank wanted to determine the cost of cloud computing. 

“From day one, developers wanted to know how much it would cost," said Rhys Jones. "Once you know how much it will costs, then you align incentive to ensure teams adopt the service. 

"We will never know whether a public cloud provider is cheaper, unless we do it ourselves.”

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His team worked with the infrastructure team to determine the unit cost of a server. He found that there was less appetite for virtualisation from the infrastructure team as it was more expensive than deploying physical servers.

But it would take six weeks for the infrastructure team to provision servers. However, he needed to support developer teams that needed to deploy servers rapidly.  

“Our customers are developers, who expect IaaS (infrastructure as a service). We have 1,300 applications in-house that can't take advantage of new hardware,” said Jones.

Agile approach

RBS has emulated Amazon's approach to cloud computing, he said. So rather than build the whole private cloud, RBS has taken an agile approach. 

“Amazon goes live with something and adds to it iteratively,” said Jones.

RBS has also taken Amazon's concept of giving away services for free to encourage adoption. 

“We find it easy to emulate Amazon, because it is five years ahead of everyone else. Amazon does not charge for its platform as a service (PaaS). If you put a cost on this, people will build their own.”

Outsourcing to the cloud

On cloud projects like outsourcing, Jones said: “You fix processes before you outsource. So we had to understand our current processes.” 

In terms of IT infrastructure, he found that many of the teams worked in silos. Even the simple of task of naming a server was a barrier to preventing the application development team from self-provisioning servers

“We found server names allocation was managed off a spreadsheet, which works when server provisioning was six weeks, but doesn't work when application team needs to self-provision.”

He said among the challenges to adopting a private cloud internally, is that the users, in this case the application development teams, in terms of their technology usage. For instance, advanced features of the private cloud, like self-service provisioning of elastic computing, where processing power can be ramped up and down on-demand, may be required by the business.

The bank started the journey to cloud computing in 2009 with a few pilots to look at the benefits of the cloud. It now has 300 virtual servers to support application developers. This will be expanded to 1,200 by next year.

The project has enabled the bank to understand how to run a private cloud and the barriers to adoption. 

Jones said: “We know internal costs and understand processes, security and operating models.” 

With this knowledge he said RBS can now assess where public cloud can be used instead its own private cloud. He said this knowledge is allowing RBS to look at whether a service provider could manage its private cloud service and operate it as an on-demand service.

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