How Kutxabank pulled off a virtual bank infrastructure
To get an idea of how far virtualization of data infrastructure has brought enterprises, consider the three-year transition of Spain’s Kutxabank from a physical to a virtual bank.
The decision to virtualize
In 2013, Kutxabank’s CIO Koldo Etxeberria was contemplating how best to incorporate mobile services into the bank’s product portfolio, as well as how to address perennial concerns regarding reliability, resiliency and security. As he considered these moves, it was announced that Kutxabank would merge with not one, not two, but three rival banks in the Basque region.
Suddenly Etxeberria had to manage the nondisruptive integration of 8,000 workstations and 2,000 ATMs on top of a lengthy data center consolidation initiative to trim the new bank’s hardware footprint.
Normally, this wouldn’t be the time to revamp infrastructure, but it was clear the legacy systems couldn’t provide the operational flexibility the new bank would need for a smooth integration process and forward-leaning, post-merger competitive posture. For this reason, Kutxabank turned to IBM for a virtualized server infrastructure that featured secure, centralized storage and processing connected to thin-client workstations and access devices.
With IT resources now provisioned and shared dynamically, the organization can maintain a service-oriented infrastructure that is not only easier to deploy, manage and integrate, but capable of providing enhanced security, continuity and service availability — all with significantly less hardware.
Fast integration as a virtual bank
As a virtual bank, Kutxabank was able to complete the four-way integration in record time. The process of converting to a thin-client model, for example, was completed in a single day, and the organization immediately began laying the foundation for a mobile-facing service architecture.
“If we didn’t have virtualization, we couldn’t have done what we had planned with such an ambitious schedule,” says Etxeberria. “Virtualization helped us speed up integration, but it also added resilience to our desktops, and it’s been a driver for increasing mobility among our employees.”
Ensuring always-on functionality
In the banking industry, trust is everything, which is why the architectural model Etxeberria deployed counts resilience as a fundamental criterion.
“Banking is information management,” the CIO adds. “The capability to maintain continuous operations is one of the most important requirements in the design of tech architecture.”
Even with Europe’s stringent data control and business continuity requirements, maintaining an always-on financial services environment is more than just a rote exercise. Kutxabank currently maintains two primary data centers in balancing and active-active configuration for critical services, plus a third for recovery. Twice a year, the bank performs a live test switch of its entire production environment from one data center to another and back again to identify and resolve any glitches in the disaster recovery process.
Virtualization has also allowed the bank to dramatically speed up its recovery processes. The recovery point objective for enterprise systems is, in fact, set at zero, while the recovery time for critical services is at near-zero. In the meantime, the bank is categorizing related services according to recovery needs to economize and optimize its backup and recovery infrastructure.
Partners in infrastructure
A crucial component in Kutxabank’s new virtual footing is a 10-year-plus service partnership with IBM. Not only did IBM develop the initial virtualized infrastructure, but it provides help desk services at branch locations and supports the bank’s communications network in conjunction with telco operator Euskaltel.
This has been essential as the bank repositions its processes for a data-driven, mobile-friendly environment. With IBM now equipping and managing the data environment, Kutxabank can gauge success according to productivity and customer satisfaction rather than CPU and memory usage.
For Kutxabank, necessity was indeed the mother of invention. What would have been a complex and disruptive merger of four data infrastructures turned out to be the impetus that propelled the bank to the next level of digital service. As a virtual bank, it now has the means to engage customers in innovative ways while maintaining a level of reliability that builds and maintains trust.
Banking is — and probably always will be — a risky practice, but a virtual bank goes a long way toward reducing the risk of infrastructure failure and enhancing the ability to compete for increasingly tech-savvy customers.