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Thailand’s Ascend Money finds agility with OpenShift

Besides implementing Red Hat’s OpenShift application platform, Ascend Money adopted an open source governance model to keep IT teams aligned with business goals

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When Jason Jackson took over the reins as CTO of Thailand’s Ascend Money under a year ago, he was confronted with a hodgepodge of applications built by different IT teams in six countries across the region.

Although the companys business was booming – it served around 30 million customers and processed $5bn worth of payments last year – it had to grapple with issues like any fast-growing company.

“We had country teams making different technology selections in different implementations that did largely the same thing,” Jackson said. “Some weren’t operating in an agile way or doing sprints, and nobody was developing products the same way.”

To keep pace with the business and become a more nimble IT shop, Ascend Money, one of Southeast Asia’s largest payment technology firms, had to turn its legacy WebSphere applications into more manageable containerised applications that run on a common platform.

“There was a huge need to standardise on technology selection and give people a centre point that they could all align towards,” Jackson said.

Jackson, who was previously Pivotal’s Asia-Pacific CTO, sprang into action, first by identifying applications that were still useful, but had to be migrated out of WebSphere. Their source codes were then embedded into Spring Boot applications that would run in Docker containers on its application platform powered by Red Hat OpenShift.

While Jackson’s team is still rolling out OpenShift in production environments in new datacentres in Thailand, his developers have been running Minishift – a local copy of OpenShift – on their laptops to ensure the Spring Boot applications will work as promised when deployed.

The next step, Jackson said, was to identify Spring Boot applications that could be decomposed into microservices.

“The primary driver for that is to have a better application architecture around shared services, so we don’t have common functionality in 10 different applications,” he said, adding that services are “owned” by service teams who are responsible for the lifecycle of each service.

But it was not just about the technology alone; there was also need to instil some discipline into development processes. “Some people were writing specifications while others were having big meetings to talk about what they wanted to do, which somehow made it into the source codes,” Jackson said.

The morale of the engineering teams has improved, as they appreciate seeing their code get into staging and production environments without delays
Jason Jackson, Ascend Money

Engineering teams were restructured, and expectations of what product development should look like were set. Security, operational and quality assurance processes were also put through a continuous integration/continuous development (CI/CD) pipeline for the first time.

Likening Ascend Money’s application platform to a core banking platform that sits on top of OpenShift, Jackson said IT teams in each of the six countries can submit a feature or functionality blueprint to a centralised team in Bangkok.

“We’re starting to run the platform like an internal open-source project,” he said. “If something makes sense for all countries, the centralised team will approve the blueprint. Any of the countries will then be able to write and submit the source codes which will be reviewed and accepted into projects.”

Jackson said such an open-source governance model that enables IT teams to contribute to the company’s desired outcomes would have been very difficult to implement without common processes and a common technology platform like OpenShift.

“OpenShift has enabled us to support legacy workloads without requiring us to rewrite them into cloud-native, stateless microservices.

“It also helped us to run monolithic apps, which we have done almost nothing to, in containers. But if we need to decompose them, we can use the platform and CI/CD processes to do it faster,” he said.

On his choice of OpenShift over rival application platform Cloud Foundry, Jackson said he would turn to the latter if he had a team building greenfield, cloud-native applications.

“As a piece of technology, Cloud Foundry is great. But I’m incentivised very much by successful outcomes, so looking at the use cases I had in front of me, OpenShift was the best option,” he said.

Even before the deployment is completed, Ascend Money is already reaping early returns from its application platform. “We’re better able to develop and support functions across a number of products, with a noticeable increase in the speed at which applications are deployed into production.

“The morale of the engineering teams has improved, as they appreciate seeing their code get into staging and production environments without delays,” Jackson said.

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