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Inside Bank of America’s IT transformation

Brandon Butler | March 8, 2016
Bank of America is on a journey to embrace a software-defined infrastructure

Over the past decade Bank of America has grown by leaps and bounds internally and through an array of mergers and acquisitions. From a technical standpoint, that growth has created a complex and disparate set of data centers, computing architectures and vendor relationships.

For CTO David Reilly, there was an obvious goal: Standardize on more efficient infrastructure. For a company that spends US$3 billion on technology each year – nearly double the amount it did five years earlier – any reduced expenditures translate directly to improved bottom line profitability for the bank. Transitioning to a shared virtualized computing platform not only drove savings in the IT organization, but net profit for the bank. But soon Reilly realized that standardizing and virtualizing was not enough. He wanted to start all over again.

Do like Facebook does

Bank of America had to get to a point where it is as agile, flexible and efficient as young, web-scale companies, Reilly believed. “It’s not enough to make what we’ve got better,” he concluded. “We actually have to get to a point where we could almost completely discard (our infrastructure) and move to a brand new, greenfield environment, unencumbered by any of the history or legacy of our existing footprint.”

Reilly isn’t alone in thinking that legacy infrastructure just isn’t cutting it anymore. In 2011 social media juggernaut Facebook started a community foundation named the Open Compute Project (OCP), which aims to create a set of standards for commodity infrastructure components that organizations can assemble together themselves. That’s opposed to buying racks and stacks of infrastructure from the traditional IT vendors.

Reilly liked the idea. But just ripping and replacing was not an option. Bank of America has 10,000 technology workers and contractors and 19 million mobile banking customers – growing at 5,500 per day. Reilly’s technology infrastructure team manages 169 petabytes of data. The legacy system couldn’t just be shut down.

So about 18 months ago Reilly created a team that began rethinking everything – from how a machine was built to how it was managed. “Software-defined technology was the way to go,” he says, harkening to the philosophy of the OCP – whose board includes executives from Facebook, Intel, Goldman Sachs and the co-founder of Sun.

The new cannot look like the old

Bank of America took a two-pronged approach to starting what Reilly calls the bank’s greenfield project. One path used a vendor’s proprietary infrastructure stack (Reilly would not disclose which provider). The other followed standards being developed by OCP and other open source projects.

Both embrace software-defined infrastructure and follow core guiding principles: Compute, storage (and eventually network) resources are provisioned via APIs; applications use containers; and data centers are built in modular components.

 

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