Dispatch from Vegas: Capital One places big bet on AWS
Those were very heady days for BAI-RDS. I have vivid memories of packing into the House of Blues in New Orleans as Chip Mahan, founder of online banking pioneer S1, invited a few hundred of his industry friends to a private performance by BB King. It was November 29th, 2000, a Wednesday evening and yet the party went on well after BB finished up his performance at 11 PM.Back to Vegas. Since I also cover cloud services for Celent, I decided to check in on what AWS was up to these days. Their annual developer's conference is called re:Invent and since AWS has only been doing this for the past four years, I didn't quite know what to expect. BAI-RDS regularly draws 3,000 attendees, and while I knew re:Invent 2012 drew about twice that number, I was still not prepared for the crowd of nearly 20,000 developers and AWS partners that converged on the Venetian Hotel and Sands Expo. The many specific education sessions were scattered over the five floors of ballrooms in the Venetian while the Expo Hall and Key Note presentations were held at the adjacent Sands Expo. While I didn't see many bankers wandering the halls of AWS re:Invent, the one banker I did see grabbed my attention: that was Rob Alexander, CIO of Capital One, who shared the stage with AWS SVP Andy Jassy during the Day One Keynote address. Rob was there to announce that Capital One is deploying its new flagship mobile banking app on the AWS Cloud -- I found that nothing less than startling in that Capital One only started experimenting with AWS last year, running a few mobile app development projects and bank-sponsored hack-a-thons in the AWS Cloud. Based on its initial success, Capital One began migrating development and testing work to AWS at the beginning of the year, and nine months later it was sufficiently happy with their experience that the bank made the bold decision to shift part of its production environment to AWS, beginning with its new mobile banking app. The new app essentially melds Capital One's existing online and mobile banking applications, with a uniform look and feel, and changes to user preferences made on an iPhone or iPad automatically flow to the user's online banking experience. Capital One's API gateway and 80 individual banking services are in the process of moving to the AWS Cloud as part of the mobile banking services launch, initially on the iPhone and later this fall expanding to the iPad and Android platforms. What's The Hurry?Surely Capital One is no start-up -- with more than 70 million cards and $80 billion in card balances, Capital One is a top-four credit card issuer. When combined with its direct banking operations, Capital One is in fact the sixth largest bank in the United States, with $350 Billion in assets. Even as a proponent of the long-term impact that cloud services will have on the banking business, I was nothing less than astonished that Capital One has progressed from cloud newbie in 2014 to going "all in" on AWS in 2015. It didn't take long to see what Capital One was up to. By leveraging AWS for DevOps and (over time) production, Capital One is on track to reduce the number of data centers it owns and operates from 8 in 2014 to 5 by 2016, to only 3 by 2018. Capital One intends to redeploy the capital it will recoup from data center consolidation into its core businesses while increasing the scope and pace of innovation at the bank. Capital One is betting that an AWS-based mobile banking platform will allow the bank to support the level of real-time scalability needed to cope with demand spikes such as occurs on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. But what about security?Security is the most commonly cited reason why most banks are not embracing cloud services, so I was interested to hear Capital One's take on security. According to Rob, "Of course, security is critical for us. The financial services industry attracts some of the worst cybercriminals. So, we work closely with the Amazon team to developa security model which we believe enables us to operate more securely in the public cloud than we can even in our own data centers." More securely in the cloud?Either Capital One has gone rogue (very doubtful) or it knows something that most banks have yet to reconcile: when it comes to security, it's much less about where your sensitive data sits and much more about how you secure your data from pranksters and thieves. AWS's re:Play evening entertainment was provided by Zedd, a Russian-German musician and DJ who I also had never heard of (although my 18-year old college student did). Chip Mahan was nowhere in sight, but I might have missed him in the crowd of 19,000 AWS converts in the audience. Zedd was no BB King for sure, and unlike Old Dominion I didn't know any of his songs, but nevertheless his techno-pop performance was hypnotically entertaining. I could have gone back to Las Vegas for a third consecutive week, where the ever-growing Money 20-20 conference beckons, but alas I'll be in Denver for the Association of Financial Professionals annual conference. Dan Latimore and Zil Bareisis will be at Money 20-20 and I'm eager to hear about their experience.