Slaying the Digital Frankenstein With Open Source

Image credit: iStockphoto/ipl_art17

Say you are a large publicly-listed financial services organization under the supervision of a vigilant regulator. You are running legacy systems that you need to upgrade, which maintains all your compliance and ensures business continuity.

It is a dilemma that many organizations have been through. Some of them, many times. But it does not necessarily lessen the pain or minimize the complexity each time you have to do it.

Most organizations, somewhere or other, have those little legacy applications lurking in dark places. They are unsupported and incompatible but are business-critical in some way. The word “Frankenstein” has an IT implication.

As time goes by and the upgrade cycle continues, some organizations have flushed these out. But for many, this is a recurring issue.

Combine this concern with cloud migration and the issues of choosing a public or private cloud, and the reality is that there is a lot of work to do when it comes to upgrading. There are critical architectural choices that need to be made.

Two Australian case studies fitting this description were presented at the recent Red Hat forum in late October. They are worth revisiting for what they say about the supported open-source approach.

The insurance Frankenstein

IAG is Australia’s largest general insurance group. It has grown significantly through acquisition in recent times.

Alarm bells go off immediately when you consider the IT integration task of consolidating the legacy systems and databases going back decades.

IAG’s approach was to use the Red Hat OpenStack Platform in 2017, moving from a system with more than 400 servers housed in 23 data warehouses across nine core technologies and three separate platforms to power everyday operations.

For IAG, the Red Hat solution was one that ticked the essential boxes of scalability and flexibility. It had the benefit of automation capabilities to improve application migration and processes right across the organization.

IAG is also moving towards a hybrid cloud environment. Some of its work was not suited to a container approach, so OpenStack offered an alternative because, as IAG’s principal platform architect Burak Hoban told the forum, “you can’t leverage containers for everything.”

“The alternative was to build a brand-new cloud, and that would have been a nightmare for us,” Hoban said.

Come late 2019, and IAG wanted to upgrade, and the decision was made to skip three versions and move from version 9 to 13. Certainly do-able, but there was one obstacle: the storage provider was not certified to provide services in the upgraded environment.

“We effectively did four upgrades in 12 months, and that involved the online storage platform, the production environment, planning configurations, and direct to automation,” said Hoban.

“It was terrifying, but it went well.”

With a development team in Israel, others in the U.S., and the IAG team in Australia, intense conversations crisscrossed the globe for several months up until upgrade time, which occurred “seamlessly over a couple of days.”

“We could have done it faster, but the leadup takes a while, and we had to sort out those snags with our storage solution,” said Hoban.

“The most important thing is the stability we have achieved, and that is more impressive when you consider we don’t have anyone working full time on OpenStack, and it underpins everything we do.”

The bank Frankenstein

Another keynote case study at the forum was from leading bank ANZ, which used the open-source approach to modernize its internet banking platform, which had passed its use-by-date and had been functioning with extended support for several years.

Open source was chosen primarily to allow the bank to keep its options available for the future. ANZ uses both cloud and on-premise technologies, so an agnostic approach made the most sense.

Speeding up the software release cycle was also a priority. So, open-source was chosen as a way to deliver continuous integration and ongoing delivery.

The tech area lead for ANZ, Raghavendra Bhat, told the forum that the bank migrated 30 percent of its traffic to the platform within the first hour of going live, processing around AUD 2.9 billion in payments.

“The previous architecture was there for a very long period, and we are now transitioning to a more microservices, cloud native-based architecture with OpenShift, and that is the biggest transition in terms of the set up between the old and the new,” Bhat said.

“The biggest opportunity for us is now we have the right foundations to start to leverage a lot of the capabilities and export them as APIs or features that can be consumed by other application channels within the bank. That gives us a lot more synergy from the customer point of view.”

The Red Hat implementation followed ANZ also using open source solutions from Puppet in 2018 as it sought to bring a fleet of over 7,000 Unix-based systems running Solaris, AiX, or Linux — under control.

ANZ hasn’t said so, but you can imagine some Frankensteins were lurking in amongst those systems.

The reality is that they will always represent a danger, but IAG and ANZ have found that open source has helped them tame the legacy beast and keep their infrastructure updated and relevant.

Image credit: iStockphoto/ipl_art17