Established in 1994 to provide home finance to members of industry retirement superannuation funds, ME Bank is now a fully-fledged retail bank. The Melbourne-headquartered company manages $20 billion in assets and has 800 employees who support 280,000 customers around Australia. Unlike traditional banks, ME Bank services its customers through digital channels, and via workplace and mobile bankers.

Before 2010, ME Bank had to invest a considerable proportion of its income to support inefficient, manual operating processes: even basic tasks such as creating a new customer account were time-consuming and resource-intensive. After a prospective customer had filled out an online form, an ME Bank employee had to re-enter the data manually into a back-end system. This process generated a letter to the customer, who would call the bank to finalize opening the account.

These cumbersome processes were not sustainable in a competitive market. In 2010, ME Bank embarked on a four-year, $60 million technology refresh program to upgrade its banking system, management tools, and systems. By mapping the delivery of new technology services and applications to a strict timeline, the bank believed it could reduce operating costs. “We effectively decided to rebuild the bank from the ground up,” says Joel Fanning, Enterprise Architect, ME Bank.

However, ME Bank’s existing on-premises datacenter infrastructure was not equipped to support the project’s demands. “We didn’t have the internal capacity or agility to build the development and testing environments that were demanded by the transformation,” says Fanning. “We realized that we were going to run into a problem making our deadlines if we didn’t come up with a different solution.”

ME Bank also needed to relieve the strain on the web servers in its on-premises datacenter caused by the volume of requests for advertising campaign data. “The traffic volumes would stress our website and internet banking services, impacting services to our customers,” says Fanning.

The bank evaluated five cloud providers before deciding to migrate its development and testing environments to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud. “AWS combined full self-service capabilities with cost-effectiveness,” says Fanning. “We were also impressed by the rapid delivery of new product and service releases.”

ME Bank uses Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC) to provision an isolated, virtual network in the AWS Asia-Pacific (Sydney) Region. ME Bank’s developers on several Transformation teams build new products and services and complete unit testing before delivering code built in the AWS Cloud to a centralized Environment Services team. Environment Services then deploys the code to environments running on AWS for system integration testing, performance testing, and user acceptance testing.

Environment Services provisions development and testing environments on behalf of the Transformation teams. Depending on the workload, the team spins up Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances ranging from medium to extra-large. AWS CloudFormation is used to replicate instance templates, providing the agility needed to keep pace with the bank’s change program.

Environment Services uses AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) to structure and monitor different levels of security and access for projects. Eventually, Environment Services plans to provide access to AWS so development, test and support teams can provision their own test and development environments.

The flexibility and scalability of AWS has enabled ME Bank to ramp up development and testing work as the technology transformation program evolves. “We started the program with only three developers,” say Fanning. “Because of the ease with which we can provision new environments, we now have 150 developers to develop and test new banking applications and services.”

Using AWS instead of an on-premises datacenter infrastructure allowed ME Bank to accelerate the provisioning of development and testing environments by up to six weeks. “We can create a new environment within one day,” says Fanning. “We also reduced the cost of delivering development and test environments for new applications and services by 75 percent.”

The speed of provisioning resources on AWS allowed ME Bank to achieve project milestones and keep the technology refresh program within its $60 million budget. “If we had continued to use a physical infrastructure, we would have encountered substantial delays in the transformation program,” Fanning says. “Within three months of starting to use AWS in November 2012, we delivered the first elements of the transformation program for release into production. Without AWS, all those deadlines would have slipped—at the cost of millions of dollars.”

ME Bank also uses AWS to distribute interest rates and other variable information to advertisements running on prominent Australian media websites. The bank uses Amazon CloudFront to pull the XML data from an Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) bucket and present it to advertising campaigns that may attract one million impressions or more. By delivering data for its advertising campaigns from Amazon CloudFront rather than web servers in its on-premises datacenter, ME Bank has been able to maintain fast response times for its customers while delivering large advertising campaigns. “The scalability of the AWS content delivery solution has enabled us to support a 2000 percent increase in web requests when running our campaigns,” says Fanning.

Because AWS services are available on demand, ME Bank can use its infrastructure more cost-effectively. The bank typically undertakes testing between 8:00 am and 11:00 pm. Once ME Bank became comfortable with the AWS Cloud, it implemented automatic shutdown of instances after 11:00pm and over weekends. “Automating the shutdown of Amazon EC2 instances when we’re not using them has proven highly cost-effective,” says Fanning. “We’ve reduced our AWS spend by 49 percent per instance.”

ME Bank currently does not use actual customer information in its development and testing environment running on the AWS Cloud. With the technology refresh project nearing its scheduled completion in 2014, ME Bank is considering how to extend its use of AWS to its production environments on a large scale. “Ultimately, we may institute a policy of moving all our applications and workloads to the AWS Cloud unless there is a good reason not to.” says Fanning. “Our focus is on being a great digital bank—we don’t want to be a great infrastructure shop.”

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