It’s already been a while. On July 9th, I visited the 2nd EBF Cloud Banking Forum in Brussels. The topic of the day: “Shaping a Multi-Cloud Environment”. Representatives of banks, regulators and cloud providers met to discuss how cloud computing can be used in the financial services sector, with one common goal in mind: To provide secure banking services to the people. With all the FinTechs and Neobanks showing up all over the place, it is obvious that traditional banks have to adopt new technologies to stay competitive in the market. The EBF Cloud Banking forum brings this discussion to the European level. With joint forces, we can be an example not only to other countries, but also be a pioneer in regard to other sectors.

The adoption of cloud technologies comes with some hurdles and quickly raises questions for the users: “How do I stay compliant with existing regulations?” as well as the regulators: “How do I make clear and transparent rules?”. “How are we going to treat the overcententration on the market?” There basically are only a handful of cloud providers to choose from and implementing a multi-cloud strategy is one way to act against overconcentration. However, it also raises the administrative complexity of adopting cloud. Therefore, a proper cloud management has to be put in place to help the banks avoid having more complexity than before. From a whole day of intensive discussions, I’ve put together the three main take-aways of the day.

Identity and access management (IAM) is crucial to a bank’s cloud transformation

This topic is not new to external environments like clouds. Defining how to manage identities and access to infrastructure resources is and has been a complex issue for many years. In order to mitigate the risk of abuse or unauthorized access to confidential information and critical systems, access rights have to be reduced to a minimum, following the principle of least privilege. Having a multi-cloud environment may raise the complexity of achieving this.
On the one hand, you want to make it easy for your users to access cloud resources, in order to speed up software development and lower the barrier for cloud adoption. On the other hand, you need to be in control of the access process, make sure it is documented and auditable to avoid the risk of undiscovered information leakage.

With meshcloud, we help large organizations like banks with a governance framework for multi-cloud environments. Our platform plugs into the existing organizational structures and identity providers like Azure AD or LDAP and unifies the way access and permissions are handled across different cloud providers. As a result, we use existing identities and provide secure SSO access to all cloud providers as well as a platform to manage fine-granular permissions centrally before replicating them to the attached platforms.
In addition, cloud providers like AWS and Azure have published services like AWS CloudTrail that monitor access and operations related to your cloud infrastructure.

An exit strategy is necessary to avoid vendor lock-in to a single cloud provider

The EBA guidelines on outsourcing arrangements include a paragraph on exit strategies, which requires banks and other financial institutions to have a well-documented exit strategy in place that ensures business continuity in case of an interruption of outsourced services. This can be the result of a failure, malfunctioning service offers as well as contractual or legal obstacles in regard to the service provider. These scenarios should be well documented and practiced, as it is crucial to be familiar with the workflows and know what to do in such exceptional circumstances.

While multi-cloud is a way to distribute the risk across more than one service provider, there are strategic steps to be considered when deciding on a sustainable cloud strategy. The use of open-source infrastructure components on different layers, such as Kubernetes, PostgreSQL or NGINX for example, can facilitate migrations from one cloud to another drastically. They can even be operated in a private datacenter. However, most companies decide on a multi-cloud strategy as a result of a best-of-breed approach. They want to use each cloud for the specific (and often proprietary) services it offers, for example in the field of machine learning or artificial intelligence. The use of such tools can accelerate development because they bring a lot of functionality out-of-the box and enable teams to focus on truly differentiating functionality. An assessment of the criticality of applications as well as the consequences of the failure of such proprietary services should be considered within an exit strategy.

As meshcloud, we help companies to avoid vendor lock-in by facilitating the use of multiple cloud platforms and the distribution of infrastructure and applications across them. We define organizational structures (teams, projects, users, permissions) in a declarative manner to enable our customers to integrate new service providers very fast and with little administrative overhead. To address the rise of higher-level infrastructure services, such as managed databases, message queues or machine learning and AI services, we offer a service marketplace that enables customers to provide a large variety of services based on an open standard (OSB API). This unifies the process of provisioning services and decouples it from the underlying infrastructure.

Configuration is key

A recent study of KPMG found that 80% of IT security incidents happen due to manual misconfigurations. By spreading infrastructure across different service providers it gets even harder to keep control on correctness and consistency of cloud configurations and this does not consider any application-specific configurations yet.

To improve security and compliance of cloud environments, our landing zones help to configure cloud accounts upon creation. This enables our customers to roll-out consistent configurations in automatically created cloud accounts, according to their use case (test, development, production). To give an example these configurations can limit the use of cloud infrastructure to specific geographical regions or blacklist certain services that are not compliant. By rolling them out consistently across all cloud accounts, our customers can relieve their development team from defining compliant configurations individually and instead provide them with a framework that has been approved by the security department.

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