digital spirit (ds): Mr Arnhold, tell us about the background to and goal of the cloud strategy pursued by DB Systel and the DB Group
Robert Arnhold (RA): Competitive pressure has led to a huge need for the Group to invest in digitalisation. In concrete terms, this involves modernising existing application landscapes as well as deploying new technology like blockchain, IoT and big data. Both of these measures are aimed at boosting optimisation of existing business, helping us respond more flexibly to changing requirements and enabling faster implementation of new features at customer touchpoints.
From the outset, it was clear that the desired results can’t be achieved purely by optimising traditional IT operations and software development as a service provider with a high level of in-house production. What is needed is a total realignment of IT production to achieve the speed and efficiency customers demand, while maintaining the same level of quality. This means moving away from all standardised IT solutions (“commodities”) generally available on the market and focusing on efficiently delivering services with direct added value for our customers. At the end of 2016, this led to the adoption of a Group resolution to systematically implement the cloud strategy, sell the in-house data centre and deploy the resulting available capacities for digitalisation. The most effective measure here is migration of applications from DB Systel’s data centre to the DB Enterprise Cloud.
ds: Can most of the applications previously operated by DB Systel – even business-critical ones – actually be migrated to the cloud?
RA: Following the preliminary assessments in 2016, we began by assuming that around 80% of applications run by DB Systel are cloud enabled, which means they can be migrated from the traditional data centre IT infrastructure to the virtualised cloud infrastructure. By the end of 2017, we had already completed some 40 cloud migrations, including complex application system networks such as the Enterprise Integration Platform (EIP) of DB Netz.
What we learned is that technical factors, such as latency problems with critical database connections, can hinder a migration. But we’re also seeing that cloud capabilities are continuously improving, and the number of cloud services is increasing almost monthly. That’s why we still consider the target realistic and, as the next step for 2018, we’re planning to migrate around 150–200 additional applications.
ds: Will applications previously run directly by the Group companies also be migrated to the cloud?
RA: To begin with, we primarily offered “unmanaged” cloud services, which provided the business units with a dedicated virtual data centre that they can run themselves. But we’re now noticing a shift away from these local approaches because many DB Systel business units want to use central solutions for data protection, compliance, IT security and secure overall cloud operations. As DB Systel, we still offer our customers open consultation, and we support business units with technical and organisational aspects of the cloud migration. But this increasingly involves the joint goal of handing over operation of the applications in the cloud to DB Systel.
ds: So, in concrete terms, these DB applications will move into the Amazon cloud?
RA: DB Systel concluded agreements in 2016 to make the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud platform accessible, which has now also been integrated into our network and production activities. This means our production in the AWS cloud is now already secure and compliant, but we don’t want to rely on just one provider going forward. To this end, a tender is currently under way for (at least) one additional cloud provider, with a view to going live in Autumn 2018.
ds: Is the application that was previously run in the data centre now run “virtually” in the cloud, so to speak?
RA: In the simplest case, it’s actually possible to migrate 1:1, introducing only the cloud infrastructure. However, certain technical modifications are often required, such as switching to the latest database versions. In both cases – also known as “Lift & Shift” – the actual application remains unchanged; but the first benefits of the cloud, like straightforward addition of IT resources when needed, are already available.
On this basis, optimisation of IT operations in the cloud can begin – for example, through automation using scripts – increasing efficiency considerably: for instance, “rightsizing” allows the IT infrastructure to be tailored to the application’s load behaviour. Other scripts can be used to recover environments or set up additional environments (for testing or training purposes, for example). This enables the IT infrastructure to be optimised and reduced in size.
ds: But there are still special approaches for basic IT, aren’t there?
RA: The “common services” are not customer-specific or application-specific solutions, but rather IT services used throughout the Group. One example is office communication, which includes software distribution and anti-virus systems, VoIP, telephone and video conferencing as well as e-meetings, storage services and printing services. The IT infrastructure for these services is also run in the data centre at present.
We’re currently in the process of checking which of these services can be replaced by migrating to Office 365 or purchased as software as a service (SaaS) so that we don’t need our own IT operations for them. Migrating to the cloud is intended only for services that cannot be replaced or cannot be replaced fast enough – after all, our own data centre will no longer exist. However, in such cases, DB Systel normally makes use of the standard services available on the market for the Group and integrates these into the IT landscape.
ds: So, that only leaves the applications that can’t go into the cloud for technical reasons?
RA: Exactly. With older technology, for example, the picture is quite mixed: operations for HP nonstop will be discontinued as a portfolio element at DB Systel at the end of 2019. Infrastructure and operations services for the mainframe have already been contracted to IBM but are still in the data centre – various options for the moveout are currently being reviewed. For Solaris, operations were contracted to Capgemini, and we’re assessing contracting options for AS-400; in all cases, vendor-specific cloud solutions or the providers’ local DC services will be used in line with demand so that the IT infrastructure from our data own centre can be outsourced entirely. This also applies to services that are still required, which are not based on older technology but are not cloud enabled because of other technical restrictions (for example, special hardware).
Finally, the fundamental network components that enable the DB network to be connected externally still need to be considered. These parts of the IT infrastructure, namely network interconnectors and gateways to customer VPNs, are currently being outsourced on a permanent basis in Frankfurt/Mainand Berlin.
ds: So when will DB’s own data centre become totally obsolete?
RA: The data centre building, including all of the IT infrastructure it contains, was sold to Penta Berlin GmbH at the end of 2017. DB Systel will always remain the operator responsible for the application systems but will handle operation of the associated infrastructure only until the relevant application is migrated. This means the data centre will be replaced gradually through to the end of 2020 – so that DB Systel itself will no longer operate any of the physical IT infrastructure afterwards.
ds: But besides the existing applications to be migrated, there’s also huge demand within the business units for new solutions and enhancements for their business?
RA: New applications that are now being jointly created with customers are ideally developed as “cloud native”, which means the software is designed for optimised operation in a cloud architecture from the outset. This enables the application to take full advantage of the benefits of the cloud, right through to automated transition from development to testing and to operation. Instead of the traditional approach of introducing multiple releases every year for one application, which involves considerable time and effort for everyone involved, the finished functions can now be made available to users immediately – the vision being two deliveries a day!
To achieve this, we’re merging organisational aspects of software development and operations in agile DevOps teams, which are responsible for an application as a whole. In the long term, this approach – accompanied by extensive training and professional development for employees – means the entire operational area of DB Systel will undergo cloudification. For this purpose, in 2017 we tested various standard tools and methods available on the market, found out what similar companies had learnt in this environment and, using this information, developed an approach for achieving DevOps teams for DB on a large scale from 2018 onward.
ds: That sounds like a lot of work for everyone involved – is it also financially worthwhile?
RA: By implementing the measures described, we expect much more efficiency in software development and operations – with the associated cost advantages. In existing business alone, this will lead to significant cost savings so that the costs of migration will very soon be recouped. Nevertheless, this isn’t a cost-reduction programme – what’s far more important are the follow-on benefits.
Testing and operations tasks that don’t deliver direct functional benefits but are used purely for the technical implementation of developed software functions will be automated as far as possible through the cloud and DevOps. This will free up resources – not just funds, but above all, IT experts – who are urgently needed for deploying and further developing technology in all business units of the Group. This is the only way to achieve the effectiveness and speed we need for digitalisation.
ds: Does this mean DB Systel and DB are moving their IT in the required and right direction?
RA: All of our clients tell us we’ve chosen the right path. We’ve also noticed in the market that those companies who have been moving to the cloud for a long time, particularly in the American region, have met with success – which also confirms our strategy. Cloud providers have already implemented thousands of technical services and are continuously adding new platforms for AI, IoT and other technologies, which are then available to us. In Europe and Germany, we’ve seen great interest in our strategic approach and implementation plans, because most companies here, especially major groups, tend still to be at an early stage.
With the sale of the data centre along with its entire IT infrastructure, as well as our public cloud approach for maximum standardisation, we’ve demonstrated how systematically we’re pursuing our move to the cloud. This is one reason DB Systel was appointed acting speaker of the DAX 30 companies in their dealings with the cloud provider AWS. In the interest of the Group, consolidating DB’s cloud expertise at DB Systel to achieve integrated, secure, efficient and flexible IT for the Group is the right approach. Following the groundwork laid in 2017, we plan to step-up implementation in 2018 to achieve a genuine full-scale rollout. We’re convinced that, together with our clients, we can achieve this.
ds: Mr Arnhold, thank you very much for the interesting conversation. We wish you continued success in implementing the cloud strategy.
RA: Interested DB employees can follow our progress on the ShapeIT page of DB Planet (German only).