BoA Embraces Software-Defined Data Centers

By Samuel Greengard

Few companies are facing digital disruption more than Bank of America. The financial services giant is witnessing enormous changes in its industry—as everything from banking models to payments undergo enormous transformations in an increasingly mobile world. David Reilly, managing director of technology infrastructure at Bank of America offers his insights into today’s IT environment and how the bank is coping with radical and ongoing change, both inside and outside the company.

CIO Insight: What is the primary focus for Bank of America in terms of digital transformation?

David Reilly: There are two primary areas. One is outward facing and the other is inward facing. Increasingly, we have to provide click versus brick services better. Although there’s a group of customers that want the in-store experience—and some people who use online and mobile banking require a store at times—there’s a growing focus on digital tools and transactions. But there’s an equally transformative process that’s taking place inside the company. It goes beyond finding more efficient ways to provision conventional resources and manage IT infrastructure. We believe that software-defined data centers will fundamentally change things.

What do you find most attractive about a software-defined approach?

It dramatically changes the way organizations like ours deliver technology services internally. The ability to take a software-defined approach to a device—server, firewall, network switch, storage device, whatever—is a huge step forward in terms of functionality. The approach adds a great deal of speed and flexibility. One of the problems with traditional infrastructure models and even the current cloud environment is that too many resources are fixed. It’s increasingly necessary to flex up and down dynamically—all within a secure infrastructure.

Can you provide an example of how this initiative benefits Bank of America?

Say we want to enter a new geography or grow the needs of the business in an existing geography. Today, we learn about the specific technology and technical needs fairly late in the process. We acquire hardware, configure and test it, and then make sure all the applications run on it correctly. All of this takes a lot of time and human involvement. What’s more, every intersection point creates the risk of a mistake or error. Life isn’t like this within a software-defined data center, where it’s possible to call upon processing capabilities and resources from a pool.

How far along is Bank of America in terms of software-defined infrastructure?

We currently have about 200 workloads up and running across a number of different stacks. We’ll grow this to about 7,000 in 2014. We are firmly committed to taking a more modular approach.

What are the challenges associated with this model?

There are technical, practical and cultural challenges. For one thing, you can’t buy this framework anywhere today. It isn’t available from any single provider. It’s also an evolving ecosystem. And there are questions, including how open will this environment be? So, we are focused on maintaining an open approach and assembling components that fit together seamlessly. We’re closely aligned with the Open Compute Project because we believe they are headed in the right direction. The cultural challenges revolve around how radically this changes infrastructure. It requires a shift in thinking and realignment of roles. It’s all about IT becoming a services organization.

How is Bank of America coping with these challenges?

We’re restructuring IT and adding skill sets. We’re re-examining partnerships and vendors. We’re looking to adopt an agile mindset and business framework. We call this initiative, Project Greenfield. Right now, we’re running it almost in competition — alongside our existing infrastructure organization. It sounds like an odd thing to do but we concluded that the opportunity was so significant that the model presented a better set of risks than the potential of not fully realizing the opportunity.

What results have you realized so far?

It’s very early but we have proof that this approach works. This year is key for us as we drive toward 7,000 workloads. We’ll know more later in the year but we are convinced that we are on the right path. At this point, it’s a question of pace and how fast we can move.

About the Author

Samuel Greengard is a contributing writer for CIO Insight. To read his previous CIO Insight article, “Green Clinic’s Healthy Approach to IT Support,” click here.


Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard writes about business, technology and other topics. His book, The Internet of Things (MIT Press) was released in the spring of 2015.

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