Westpac sees virtual desktops as important as core banking upgrade

Of all the initiatives that Westpac is undertaking with its Strategic Investment Priorities program, its desktop virtualisation program ranks as highly as its ongoing core banking update in priority.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

The bank with Australia's largest branch network is in the midst of a desktop simplification program that is seeing Westpac replace its distributed on-premise desktop model with a centralised virtual desktop infrastructure.

Speaking to ZDNet at a customer panel held at the Citrix Synergy 2014 conference this week, Westpac manager of workplace service delivery, Suzy Mann said the desktop move is one of the bank's key priorities.

"It's a big shift, obviously, for banks where mainframe was everything," she said. "But certainly now, our centralised virtual desktop infrastructure and the complementary components to that, all of the data and so on, that infrastructure, even though we are seen as a service, has certainly got a much greater level of priority and awareness."

"It has bumped it right up to the top, I'd say."

The project, which sees the desktop rolled out to branch and call centre staff, revolves around the concept of stateless logins, allowing Westpac staff to move seemlessly around branches.

"If it was the traditional sense, it would take a long time to log on and log off, but with a stateless model we are able to disconnect and reconnect securely and quickly, enabling a much better experience for actual customers and the bank.

"It's a critical component as we move from a distributed model of servers in each of our branches, to a centralised model and really relying heavily on stateless provisioning of virtual desktops to branch users."

Westpac's desktop replacement project forms part of its Strategic Investment Priorities (SIPs) program, which will see an overhaul of the bank's technology, and recently had its first phase completed.

Called out in the bank's recent half-yearly results that announced a profit of AU$3.6 million, the SIPs program had delivered upgrades to security applications, general ledger and payroll systems, as well as progressing the migration of server infrastructure into Westpac’s new data centre across the half year.

As part of SIPs, the bank is moving to create a common core banking platform, with Westpac and St George first sharing a common infrastructure access layer currently used by Westpac, before St George is moved onto the latest version of its CSC-made Hogan core bank platform, Celeriti, with Westpac joining St George on Celeriti thereafter.

Looking forward, Mann said that in the future larger corporates would have to face up to the challenge of legacy apps and working with several standard operating environments (SOE).

"We, as I hear all banks do the same thing, are often the oldest operating system, because of our [legacy] applications," she said.

"I think with the rate of change of internet browsers and operating systems over the next few years, that we are going to see a really interesting new standard evolve around the concept of an SOE, which will literally, by design, have multiple SOEs that can be selected. And obviously that's technically possible now, but I actually think we will see it in use.

"Certainly from a banking platform perspective, it's going to help us — you are as slow as that common denominator, so I think as we move forward we'll see a different type of pattern evolve for larger corporates .

Also on the panel was Neil Lock, director of BT Compute at BT Global Services, who also considered virtual desktops to be a priority for his organisation.

"I just look at the volume of projects we have, and it's pretty simple really, the number of desktop projects that we have on the go," he said.

"And I think that is the key area that, maybe, has been overlooked for a while. They've done a lot of the backend server virtualisation, application virtualisation, and that desktop environment is right on the radar now. It's a huge area for transforming IT."

Lock said that he believes that the future of the CIO lies in becoming a broker between a multitude of service providers.

"They are going to have probably 20 to 30 key service providers that deliver different aspects of their business, and they are managing those service levels," he said.

"I think service provision is a really good trend that is going to continue. Not worrying about what the infrastructure looks like, what name is on the server, how it is configured, hopefully we are going to be in a position whereby the actual infrastructure becomes ubiquitious, [and] it's really easy to consume.

"There will be differences, but the differences will be on the service level that is given, rather than the actual technology that underpins it, and people will be able to trust the service level. I think that will be a critical thing if we can get there, that would be really good."

On the subject of data sharing and identity, Lock said that there were key areas that BT was looking at and the IT department no longer had a right to assume that identity was solely their responsibility.

"They need to consider all the other areas that that comes from, and I think that data area is about how you can make better use of that and do it in a trusted way, and actually share public data, and very private data, in a really comprehensive way, there's a huge opportunity around that."

"When we talk about consumerisation of IT, but actually, individuals' identity, where that exists — how that gets managed across all of the world that we now live in — I think is a big opportunity that we are looking into about how that gets managed."

The concept of identity and privacy was impacting the discussion about hybrid clouds, in Lock's view, and the decision of how much data in hybrid cloud was public and how much was private had not yet been resolved.

"Different customers have very different views on how that will work and we need to support that."

Disclosure: Chris Duckett travelled to Synergy 2014 as a guest of Citrix

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