by Edward Qualtrough

Betfair CIO’s hybrid strategy tackles compliance and efficiencies

Feb 25, 20145 mins
Cloud ComputingFinancial Services IndustryIT Leadership

Betfair CIO Michael Bischoff hopes to never buy a server again, and said that the online gaming company was adopting a hybrid cloud strategy for the dual benefits of scalability and regulatory compliance.

CIO UKspoke to Bischoff after it was announced the Hammersmith-based company had been part of VMware’s beta programme for the vCloud Hybrid Service in the EMEA region, which launched today.

Bischoff, a member of the executive leadership and in the CIO role at the world’s largest internet betting exchange since May 2013, said that the organisation’s research and development shops had been testing the model, which they expect to roll out to their production line as well.

“We invested in this model at the time because I was grumpy about having to buy any more tin,” Bischoff said. “We didn’t know it at the time when we started on this cloud journey, but a hybrid model is now where all of our tin and wires will sit.

“We hear from a lot of companies building private clouds. But it’s the wrong solution to the problem; we don’t want to be investing in tin and wires.

“I need to get the benefits of the economies of the public cloud, but I also need to stand in front of my regulators and be able to tell them where my data is.”

People and culture

Bischoff spoke about an ease of deployment while admitting that Betfair had previously invested heavily in the whole VMware stack, but said that the management problems of people and culture were more troublesome than the technology itself.

“I need to be able to control, manage, govern and secure the infrastructure,” he said. “But the technology is the easy part, it’s more a problem of people, processes and culture.

“If I had to do it again, I would spend 90% more time worrying about people and processes, and 90% less time worrying about the technology.”

For Bischoff, any new working styles for staff were as important as the customer experience of consumers using Betfair’s services.

“I want our workers to be actively disinterested in where the stack is coming from,” he said. “Except for the CFO from an economic point of view, and the regulators from a compliance point of view.

“We also need to reassure the customers – for them the most important things, apart from the odds, are the reliability of placing or cashing out a bet, and that their money is secure.”

Flexibility and agility

Bischoff also elaborated on his close relationship with new CTO Paul Cutter, who moved from BSkyB where he was director of software engineering earlier this month.

Bischoff said that it was his responsibility for the back-end operations and infrastructure that will give Cutter’s department the platform to be Agile that can give Betfair a competitive advantage.

Bischoff said: “Paul looks after the delivery of all of our applications to customers, and colleagues internally.

“He’s responsible for all of our application development while I look after the operations and infrastructure, and the services that go along with that – so clearly Paul and I work very closely in this space.

“What we’re doing here is delivering the ability into Paul’s organisation that allows him to be as flexible and Agile as possible.”

In the gaming industry, Bischoff said, adopting a hybrid cloud model wouldn’t give an organisation a competitive advantage – but rather that ignoring technology trends is where the game can be lost.

“If you don’t do, that’s your competitive disadvantage,” he said.

“This is the inexorable move to a new unit price of computer power, where if you don’t get on the bandwagon your operating costs become unsustainable in a very competitive market.

Advantage lies in speed of deployment

“It’s less about competitive advantage than it is about table stakes. This is the game you’ve got to be in if you’re going to operate at the margin levels that will keep you competitive. It’s about reducing operating costs ultimately.

“Our development and test shops are where we have focused our efforts because we’re supporting the ability for them to be as efficient and effective and Agile as possible and not be constrained by Platform-as-a-Service.

“People talk about a software-defined data centre – but another way of thinking about that is more like an API-accessible set of capabilities, and here we’ve come a long way down that route.”

Bischoff said that while he has been excited with the VMware beta programme used by Betfair’s test and development teams, he wants to see a broader deployment.

“Eventually we want to get it through to production as well,” Bischoff said, “since there’s no reason that if we can orchestrate it with test and development it won’t work in production as well.

“The ability to deploy new features to our customers at speed is where we get our competitive advantage.”