Connecting People with Finance: Spotlight Shines on Digital Transformation During the COVID Crisis

The pandemic has driven digital transformation among banks. With Huawei’s OceanStor solutions, Itaú Bank takes bold steps to stay ahead of the trend.

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The Coronavirus crisis has caused the most rapid and most massive digital transformation the financial services industry has ever seen. Due to the push for self-isolation across the world in the spring of 2020, financial services IT departments had to quickly enable the majority of staff to work from home, while making sure systems could cope with unprecedented spikes in online banking and mobile app usage by customers.

The COVID changes affected every financial services organization differently. While some have struggled with a lack of scale and funding, many challenger banks and FinTech firms have capitalized on their cloud-native, digitally flexible nature, as bank branches were temporarily closed.

Incumbent institutions meanwhile, often burdened by legacy systems and physical sites, have had to significantly increase investment in tech infrastructure to keep up.

Itaú bank’s outlook of digitalisation

Itaú Bank is the largest bank in Latin America, operating in more than 20 countries across the world and investing around US $2 billion in technology research and development every year. Itaú Bank chief technology officer Fábio Napoli explained that the bank has almost 84,000 employees, around 55,000 of which had to be set up for remote work at short notice. “We used to work with 3,000 people in [our] home office daily, and in a week we put 22,000 people at home, offering the technology for them to be able to do so – equipment such as 4G modems, as well as office supplies, chairs, desks, etc.,” said Napoli.

Thankfully the bank was already well on its way to digitalization, with a focus in recent years on improving customer service. But given the social distancing restrictions that are now necessary, this strategy has had to shift in the last few months. “We understand that the point of presence, things like the ATM, the human contact in-branch, is something people will continue to have, but the more we can make self-service available, giving people digital channels – this is what Itaú believes should continue evolving,” commented Napoli. “Itaú understands that it is a technology company, and without technology we will not be able to evolve and offer the products that the market requires of us,” Napoli stated, adding: “Since we have a lot of competition with the FinTechs, the bank understands that digital transformation is crucial to keeping up.”

Data center capacity

In 2014, the bank built two large-scale data centers. However, its storage devices were creating bottlenecks as they were unable to cope with the requirements of continuous service expansion. IT teams demanded stable and reliable systems, but the existing storage architecture was becoming outdated, as expired equipment warranties on the live network and a high component fault rate proved a burden.

Itaú carried out proof-of-concept tests for alternative products, finding that Huawei’s solution delivered stable storage performance, with its RAID-TP technology tolerating concurrent failures of three disks without interrupting services. Before Huawei, Itaú Bank’s data centers used 154 sets of network storage devices, occupying a lot of cabinet space in the three data centers, but providing only 36.9 petabytes of available capacity. The extremely high power consumption of the devices and cooling systems also increased the total cost of ownership. However, Huawei’s OceanStor all-flash arrays reduced power consumption for devices and cooling systems by 45 percent each and maintenance cost by 65 percent each.

All-flash storage technology

Itaú Bank’s IT operations superintendent Augusto Stracieri explained that his team has always tried to be forward-thinking in terms of innovation. In this case, it was mid-2017 when his team started looking into all-flash technology, but it took time to prepare for such an upgrade.

“Last year our studies began to point out that all-flash technology was ripe enough for a smooth evolution. We began to see that, from the compression, data reduction, resilience, and quality of these solutions, we can make a balance between performance, cost and efficiency.”  Stracieri continued: “Huawei demonstrated a high level of probation, technical competence, and effort to get the equipment installed and operating – even with this COVID-19 pandemic.”

The OceanStor Dorado solution was delivered in March 2020, ahead of schedule, and crucially before the pandemic took hold in Brazil. “OceanStor Dorado V6 is behaving better than expected in terms of data reduction rate and performance,” said Stracieri, adding, “We are still beginning migrations, but here we can already realize excellent performance.”

For more information about Huawei’s OceanStor Dorado All-flash Storage, please visit here.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.