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Background

With the rise of software-defined data centres, it is often suggested that servers, storage and networks can be obtained as software or as a service. However, this point of view is deceptive, as high demands are also placed on the hardware. Flexible scalability, fast access times, compatibility and other advantages that come with Infrastructure as a Service are required.

The banking service provider Inventx, in particular, sets high standards for its suppliers. Only last year, Inventx put a new network of data centres into operation. Due to the growing customer base from the financial industry it became necessary for the data centres to be modernised and expanded. The existing data centre in Chur was renovated and a new one in St. Gallen was set up at a safe distance from the first one. Inventx's goals are ambitious. In contrast to all other industries, Swiss banks and insurers are still hesitant when it comes to the cloud. A "Swiss Financial Cloud" is intended to provide the financial services industry with a hybrid cloud infrastructure that combines not only the best of two, but of three worlds: the hybrid cloud is designed to be attractive for banks with a high proportion of legacy systems. For this reason, on-premise IT is included in the model, as are services from private and public clouds. A hybrid cloud requires computers, networks and storage to work together seamlessly.

Nevertheless, Inventx has chosen a dual-provider strategy for its storage and server environment. "Cloud-capable hardware has become standard and the individual manufacturers do not differ significantly in terms of functionality," explains Roman Flutsch, Head of Operations and member of the Inventx management team. But it is not just a matter of purely technical functionality. He adds that commercial factors are just as important, as is a supplier's ability to deliver and its overall service quality. In addition to the manufacturers used so far, storage and server components from Huawei were used for the first time at Inventx.

Requirements for components

The Swiss Financial Cloud and the data centre network it is based on are fundamentally geared towards high scalability. Financial institutions that choose to enter the cloud undergo a structured onboarding process and the application ecosystem is subject to a thorough analysis. The form of self-service that companies are used to from a public cloud only becomes available to customers once their compliance, security and service requirements have been clarified and technically mapped. The private cloud is therefore more like a community cloud, which is exclusive to the Swiss financial industry. At first, the usage of private cloud services is limited. The more experience customers gain with different cloud models and the more services that are available in the public cloud, the better the individual solutions can be implemented and operated in line with the customer’s needs.

Carrier quality in demand

In such an environment, it is important that components continue to develop at manageable costs. A rapid expansion of capacities, flexible expandability and easy handling mean that the components must not be monolithic and large in terms of their architecture. A more compact design also has a positive effect on performance. The setup and management software must enable the components to be integrated quickly into existing configurations. The configuration of the hardware itself has to be supported by high reliability, low latency and high bandwidth. Huawei applies the robustness demanded by the carrier market to its enterprise business.

The architecture is based on proprietary developments so that there are no incompatibilities within the solutions. During operation, the storage and server components require little maintenance because the firmware is stable and is upgraded once a year, if necessary.

We wish for more flexibility and delivery times of under three weeks for the planning.

Roman Flütsch, Head Operations & Member of the Management at Inventx
Focus on service

According to Flutsch, however, it is not only these technical features that are a key factor: "For rapid scaling, it's important for us to understand how our partner is set up in terms of delivery and maintenance. Delivery times of less than three weeks are desirable for predictability on the one hand and flexibility on the other. We also evaluated whether the devices had already been subjected to pre-testing ahead of delivery, so that time could be saved and nasty surprises avoided during the configuration and implementation phases.

Huawei scores particularly well in terms of on-site support. Kevin Liu, Vice President of the Enterprise Business Group at Huawei Technologies Switzerland AG, sees this as an advantage in terms of mentality and location: "In case of doubt, our support staff will remain on site until a problem has been resolved."

Another advantage is the time difference; anything that is identified as being optimisable is forwarded directly to the R&D departments around the world. After all, 80,000 of the Chinese giant’s 180,000 employees work in research and development. However, Liu also admits that "in the first few years after Huawei's entry into the enterprise business, our sales colleagues worked more on presenting the company than selling solutions. But now it is easier because we have renowned Swiss companies that we can use as reference customers, and the partner landscape is also on a solid footing."

Open interfaces are the future

It is not only the quality of Huawei that stands out. During the evaluation, Inventx CEO Gregor Stücheli travelled to China. The trip included a visit to Chinese banks. The sheer size of financial institutions is one thing: imagine the requirements as regards to performance and stability of an IT infrastructure for end-of-day processing at a bank with more than 100 million customers! And since the banks there do not have the problem of large legacy infrastructures like their counterparts in Europe, they can quickly implement modern technologies. They rely mainly on open environments such as open source and OpenStack.

Flutsch sees the future potential of this approach: "Open interfaces are becoming increasingly important in the financial sector. Fintechs can connect more quickly and seamlessly with their innovative banking solutions." The Huawei components are already designed this way.

Project Summary
  • Task: Provision of SAN and backup storage as well as compute node high density for Inventx’s Swiss Financial Cloud
  • Solution: Huawei OceanStor Storage
  • Time frame: Implementation completed, operational since 2016
  • Achieved goal: Stable production environment, flexible scalability of the storage and server resources
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