Thursday, June 12, 2008

Banking on the Cloud

I've spent the last few days hanging out with a bunch of bankers at the annual Morgan Stanley CTO Summit in San Francisco. The invite only event mixes the top Morgan Stanley technology personnel, emerging technology companies and key players in the venture capital world.

Cloud Computing was a noticeably "hot topic" of conversation at this years summit. My invitation to this years event was a rare opportunity to pick the brains of the true enterprise decision makers on the challenges as well as the opportunities for cloud computing within a large financial environment. This year was particularly interesting because of the downturn in the finance market and challenges associated with it.

I was surprised by just how informative this event actually was, I figured it would be just another "bankers" tech get together. I was wrong. Below are some of the key points I took away from the summit.

Cloud Computing was front and center this year. One of the more interesting points that kept reoccurring was the need for better security. There seems to be a definite desire to use "Cloud Infrastructure" both internally within high performance computing, trading platforms and other various software platform services. There seems to be a genuine desire to use external cloud resources such as Amazon. The need to secure data in the cloud was one of their single biggest concern. Those who offer this kind of "bridge to the cloud" will be the ones who will bring the most value to the banking industry. What is interesting, for the time being they seem more interested in keeping their "compute resources" safely tucked under the mattress then putting it to the hands of a "book store". (Personally I'd rather keep my money in the bank where it is safe and more easily managed in the same way I'd rather keep my computing infrastructure in a well managed cloud rather then in my office closet. Until the major banks realize this, I don't foresee a lot of movement toward the public cloud.)

Another interesting take away, the traditional enterprise sales model is dead. Getting in through the back door is the way of the future. SaaS, Cloud and Open source are all viable options and in some ways perferred. They provide a frictionless way for IT works within Morgan Stanley a way to try new approaches, services and technologies. They were also quick to point out that whether or not the software was traditional or hosted was secondary to what "problem" it solved. The ability to solve a partcular problem was the most important aspect in getting your product or service in the door, this point is more important then any license applied to the technology. So don't focus on the "it's SaaS", focus on the problem.

Also interesting was the declaration that cost is not always a major part of the decision process when looking at software and related services. One example was provided by a top level VP, his story involed a 2,000 server deployment used for some sort of risk analysis (he was vague). This deployment of 2,000 servers easily costs them several million dollars, moreover they only use these servers for about 1 hour per month (if at all). But when they do use these servers, on that one day when the "market goes crazy" it could mean the difference between a 2 billion dollar loss or a 1 billion dollar profit. His numbers may have been an exaggerated a bit, but the point hit home. (It's all about making money)

Another area that kept being mentioned was virtual desktop deployments are big business for the bank. VDI users now have the ability to work within their own "context" and have their personal desktop environment move with them. No longer do IT staff need to continuely maintain desktops onsite thus saving the bank a lot of time and resources. They also made mention that "human resources" is their biggest technology cost. If a employee changes position, moves to a new office and leaves all together, it's now just a couple clicks saving the bank a lot of money.

Interesting was the amount of data integration companies at the event. Based on the sheer volume of data integration companies at the event, I would say they are looking seriously at this area, although my conversations didn't touch upon this topic. (I was way to busy pushing my cloud agenda.)

One of the biggest surprises was regardless of the downturn in the markets, Morgan Stanley is on track to spend more then ever on their IT budget. They seem to think that during periods of lower economic activity it gives them a rare opportunity to establish themselves in new areas of emerging technology that my give them a competitive advantage down the road. They also seem to think that their use of technology will directly influence their ability to maintain their lead in the lucrative tech IPO market (which appears to be none existent this year). They went on to say that the companies that emerge during the hardtimes tend to do better in the long term (Think Google). Morgan Stanley is ready to apply this to their own business and I applaud them for it. If I ever go IPO, I know who will represent me!

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