Bank of England to start new cloud environment build in 2020

The UK's central bank is tendering for a partner to "assist in design, construction and assurance of a modern, fit for purpose cloud environment," over the next two years, starting in April

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The Bank of England is tendering for a partner to "assist in design, construction and assurance of a modern, fit for purpose cloud environment," over the next two years, in what it calls a major "step change". The bank wants to start work in April this year.

The environment will be built to support developers "requiring a cloud environment to develop, test and deploy code, on-boarding stakeholders, training and support," as well as security teams and corporate governance staff looking to better understand how the use of "digital tools and governance as code will implement information governance compliance so staff are empowered to collaborate safely and securely."

Amongst its many roles, from regulation to research, the Bank of England is responsible for £485 billion of assets and, through its real-time gross settlement function, processes £650 billion worth of transactions a day. It also performs regular 'stress tests', running pretty complex analytics to assess whether the bank can withstand a variety of financial shocks, so reliable uptime and watertight data integrity are key requirements for any technology infrastructure at the institution.

[Related: Control your cloud: Data Security and Governance]

This tender follows the publication of the bank's Future of Finance report in June last year, commissioned by Huw van Steenis, which called for the bank, and the wider UK financial services industry, to "embrace the cloud".

Cloud vision

The outgoing governor of the bank Mark Carney laid out his technology vision in a speech last year titled 'A Platform for Innovation' during the Innovate Finance Global Summit at London's Guildhall.

In that speech he called for "a number of concrete steps to create an environment for a more resilient, effective and efficient financial system". This certainly looks like one of those steps.

Despite having dabbled with cloud services, specifically in its security operations centre (SOC) and the build of its new central data hub, the bank now wants to further commit to the cloud to "access the capabilities provided by public cloud services, including the flexibility of platforms and infrastructure as a service". It says that movements in this direction are with the aim to "deliver the right environment to match the requirements of the bank’s business now and in the future".

Turning to the cloud should also open up some opportunities for the bank to further investigate how it can use artificial intelligence .

"AI-enabled solutions are increasingly important in fraud detection as well as automated threat intelligence and prevention," Carney said in his speech. "As some in the audience are exploring, there is also significant potential in credit assessments, wholesale loan underwriting and trading.

"Each of these aspects of supervision is amenable to automation, machine learning or AI to some extent."

Cloud native requirements

The statement of work document, which was published on Wednesday, is an interesting window into how the bank seeks to modernise its systems. Cloud-native technologies and architectures like containers and microservices are clearly at the forefront.

The document explicitly asks for "experience of developing, maintaining and operating complex operational tooling, including Kubernetes," knowledge and experience of microservices and a "demonstrable engagement with the devops community".

Additional desirable skills include experience with modern programming languages like Angular, Golang, Java, Python and C#, as well as Kubernetes Administrator (CKA) qualifications and other certifications.

The bank is already in the middle of a second major rebuild of its massive central data hub after some teething issues rendered the first iteration unfit for purpose. A second iteration of this data hub is due to be launched by the bakn this year, working closely with enterprise Hadoop specialist Cloudera (now that it has merged with Hortonworks) and using a variety of open-source technologies.

Read next: How the Bank of England redesigned its data hub around open source

Adrian Waddy, technical lead for the bank's big data platform, had previously explained the importance of automation, dynamic provisioning and virtualisation in 'Data Hub Two'.

"One of the key differences in terms of the live environment is we are going from effectively a single cluster to three separate production clusters," he said during a speech at the Dataworks Summit in Barcelona last year. "This largely reflects the cloud offering on Azure and means we will be able to tune these clusters to workload."

Now the bank is looking to take a "step change" in the way it hosts services, with "advances in security and vendor offerings such that the bank can see real benefits to its operations".

Our view

At the time of writing, 34 applications were in progress for the project, 25 of which came from SMEs and nine from 'large' suppliers.

We predict that one of the 'big three' cloud providers will ultimately make the shortlist for this contract, largely due to the breadth of capability and depth of experience specified in the tender. However, a passage in the document could indicate a preference for pursuing a hybrid model, or even a combination of the top vendors: "[the bank has] considered existing services in the market and the characteristics of a successful delivery of a hybrid infrastructure (one that is public cloud, private cloud, and internally hosted)."

Read next: AWS vs Azure vs Google Cloud: What's the best cloud platform for enterprise?

Microsoft could be the early front-runner, however, as the bank identifies Microsoft-certified Azure engineers as a 'nice-to-have' skill in the tender.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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