Bank tech boss: Where we're going, we don't need mainframes

Agile means aggressive dumping of big iron

Dutch finance giant ING is moving away from mainframes as “aggressively” as it can, rejecting vendors’ hopes that a little sprinkling of Agile dust will give the venerable platform a new lease of life.

Speaking at the DevOps Enterprise Summit in London on Thursday, Ron van Kemenade, CIO ING Bank, detailed the bank’s transformation over the last six years, which has seen it embrace Agile and DevOps and work towards a global, scalable architecture across its operations.

But while Van Kemenade detailed his inspirations for the strategy, from Netflix to Google, his presentation had little to say about the mainframes that most insiders would say still constitute the heart of any financial organisation.

Speaking to The Register, he confirmed the finance giant still ran mainframes: “You won’t find a bank without a mainframe, unless recently established.”

But, he continued, “We are extremely aggressively moving away from them.”

This was not because “a mainframe in itself is a bad technology. It’s maybe one of the most virtualised environments ever invented, even before the whole hypervisor was there.”

"Intrinsically," he said, "there’s two problems. [Firstly] They’re not real-time in their connectivity."

Secondly, and perhaps, more importantly, “in this DevOps transformation with continuous delivery you simply see that all kinds of new tooling is created for Linux, it’s created for Windows - but why would a developer today for generic tooling bother to make it adaptable for a mainframe?”

The bank was seeking to reconfigure itself to tackle new regulations, some of which will enable new entrants into the financial market and put in place an agile, scalable architecture worldwide.

“More and more while we move into the journey, the mainframe becomes an impediment. And that’s why we’re aggressively moving away from it.”

It was, he admitted, “a hell of a job.”

While the younger DevOps tool vendors would not even dream of developing for the mainframe, more venerable firms, such as Compuware, are attempting to reorganise their toolsets so that mainframe minders are not left out of the agile game altogether.

Yet van Kemenade said they were fighting a losing battle. “It feels a bit like a backwater fight. It’s trying to catch up, but it’ll never ever be the leading edge. And if we really want to be competitive. We want to be at the leading edge.” ®


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