The National Australia Bank is being forced to deal with apps that run on outdated server infrastructure after Microsoft refused the bank any further extensions on a support agreement.
Executive general manager of infrastructure, cloud and workplace Steve Day revealed the bank’s problem during a session at the recent AWS Summit in Sydney.
Day said NAB’s environment was complex both in terms of scale and legacy.
“We have 30-odd different programming languages that we work with,” he said.
“We have just an incredible amount of existing IT, in fact over 2000 applications that we're needing to continually maintain, run and develop on.
“When you have 2000 applications, trying to keep them all upgraded to the latest version, the latest patch, the latest operating system, the latest everything is really hard. Currency is a big issue.”
Day said that NAB expended “enormous amounts” of money and effort on system maintenance.
The bank’s problems were exacerbated by the dwindling maintenance windows available to perform works.
“We need to be up all the time,” he said.
“A few years ago, it didn't matter if our services went down from midnight to 6am for maintenance, now it does.
“We now can't take our services offline for large periods of time to perform that maintenance work.”
Day said that, as a result, NAB has “ended up in a situation where some of our stuff is completely out of currency.”
“That's sort of OK, because we can pay the likes of Microsoft to provide extended support,” he said.
However. Microsoft has now drawn a line in the sand over extended support on Windows Server 2003 - meaning NAB is no longer able to put off decisions on what to do with core enterprise apps that run on the older servers.
“We've extended support and extended support and extended support with Microsoft, just while we tried to sort out so many other problems and applications, to the point where they've said, 'Right, next July, that's it. No more support',” Day said.
“Now, we cannot have no support on our environment. It goes way outside of our risk appetite. Our regulator would not allow us to trade when our applications are running on service that's not supported.
“So we've now hit an impasse, where we need to either look at completely replacing all of those applications, or completely refactoring them onto a different environment.”
Scramble for options
Day said the bank workshopped a series of options with DXC Technology.
“My options [included to] take a 2003 environment and try and upgrade from 32-bit to 64-bit. I'd have to probably go through about four different upgrades serially to get all the way up to [Server] 2016], and that would be hard,” Day said.
“Another option was to replace the app by writing something that runs on a modern environment that does the same thing, but that will take a whole lot of work as well.
“And then a third option was to buy something new off-the-shelf. But that requires retraining of [potentially] 30,000 people and a huge amount of disruption to the business that doesn't need to happen.”
In the end, NAB went with none of those after a fourth option emerged in the form of British ISV Cloudhouse, and its product Cloudhouse Containers.
Cloudhouse packages apps in a way that they can be re-hosted on more modern server infrastructure - in NAB’s case, on AWS - without breaking the way the app operates.
“The purpose of the software approach we take is to stop the application from realising that the underlying environment has changed,” Cloudhouse CEO Mat Clothier said.
“Our process is all about packaging an application in that environment where it's known to work today, taking all of the understanding of how the application sits and works on that operating system - the files, the registry, all the things it talks to - and putting that into our container.
“But really, the conceptual side is, as far as the application is concerned, when it's sat inside that container, and it looks at the outside world, it should think it's still looking out at 2003, if that's what it requires.
“Our ‘magic’ is to map that to how things behave so when you get to the other end of the equation, and you land that into the cloud, as far as the cloud is concerned, you've just fed it a shiny new, perfectly written .NET application and all the good things that come with that around how you deploy, manage and control that.”
Making Cloudhouse work for NAB was a joint effort between DXC Technology, Cloudhouse and AWS.
“When Cloudhouse came along with this black magic of 'I can take my legacy application, and I can run it on 2016 with not a lot of work', that was extremely interesting to us,” Day said.
Timesheet app proof-of-concept
NAB ran a proof-of-concept using Cloudhouse to package up an old timesheet app that ran on Windows Server 2003.
“The timesheeting app [was already] performing really well,” Day said.
“Everyone in the company knows how to use it, they know where it is, they know all the intricacies of it, they know exactly how to get it done quickly and efficiently.
“And we have a whole lot of people that have written macros to it and things like that that would all have to be remediated if we moved away from that app.
“It's a big deal. It would be really disruptive.”
New cloud migration option
Day said that Cloudhouse is now another option available to NAB in its wider cloud migration, which aims to ultimately re-platform 35 percent of all IT applications within three to five years.
“It just completely and utterly changes the way we approach the problem now because we now have another tool in our toolbox,” he said.
However, Day indicated the bank would not be choosing to run large numbers of apps in Cloudhouse containers; it would still take tough decisions on the future of apps where necessary.
“This isn't appropriate for everything,” he said.
“We wouldn't use that for a relatively young application that just needed one Windows update [to regain currency].
“But we certainly think it's really valuable for those legacy applications where the other options are just either incredibly expensive, or incredibly time consuming in order to remediate.”