195-year-old KeyBank explains how a partnership with Google Cloud is helping it build software faster and even take better advantage of Microsoft's and Amazon's clouds too (KEY, GOOG, GOOGL)

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chris mcfee KeyBank

  • KeyBank, the 195-year-old financial institution, was an early tester of Google Cloud’s Anthos, a hybrid cloud product that Google Cloud launched last year to much fanfare. 
  • Anthos lets customers manage their cloud infrastructure, not only on Google Cloud itself, but also across Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and even their own data centers.
  • As a bank, KeyBank needs to keep many of its applications in its own private data centers — but it’s also a cloud customer of Google, Microsoft, and Amazon. 
  • KeyBank also uses Kubernetes, a Google-created open source cloud software project, to power its website and app, making Google Anthos doubly attractive.
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It used to take 195-year-old bank KeyBank three to four months to plan new features for its website and app. Thanks to technology from Google Cloud, however, it has cut that planning time down to one week.

The story starts about five years ago, when KeyBank started using Kubernetes, a Google-created open source software project best suited to running large-scale applications in the cloud, to power its website and app.

That attracted the attention of Google, which in early 2019 offered KeyBank the chance to become one of the first testers of Anthos, a major new product from Google Cloud, with a little help from Cisco which provided the networking hardware to make it all work. 

Anthos, officially unveiled about a year ago, is a so-called hybrid cloud product that allows users to manage their cloud infrastructure — across Google Cloud, private data centers, and even rival clouds like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. That appealed to KeyBank, given that it uses all of the above to power its IT infrastructure. Even better, Anthos is itself based on Kubernetes, the tech that KeyBank had already embraced. 

As a financial institution, KeyBank has to adhere to strict regulatory standards about where and how its data is stored, meaning that despite all of its efforts to modernize its infrastructure on all three major cloud platforms, its private servers aren’t going anywhere.

“From a private data center perspective, we’re a 200-year-old bank,” Chris McFee, director of enterprise DevOps practices at KeyBank, told Business Insider.. “There’s a number of back end processes and back end technologies that don’t make sense necessarily to do a lift and shift into the cloud. They run well today in data centers.”

Indeed, Anthos is a key part of Google Cloud’s overall strategy to appeal to financial institutions by helping them move to the cloud, without needing to rethink their approach to their tried-and-true data centers.

“Having that hybrid approach is very very huge for us,” McFee said.

For KeyBank, it means an easier time managing the complex task of using multiple clouds. It also means that KeyBank has more flexibility to pick and choose cloud providers for each new task based on their relative costs, instead of being locked in to one.

“If we need to flex out into one of the cloud providers, it’s easier to use that with Anthos product line,” McFee said. “We can flex workloads out into Google Cloud and into Microsoft cloud as necessary. We’re doing some experimentation. That was definitely one of the reasons why Anthos was interesting for us was to be able to manage those workloads in one place.”

‘It’s been cool to see the product get shaped by some of the feedback we’re able to provide’

Being one of the first big companies to try Anthos has been something of a double-edged sword: Just keeping up with the rapid pace of development has proven to be a challenge for KeyBank, McFee said.

“It’s the speed and velocity at which the product changes and just being able to maintain the documentation and understanding new features sets, but not anything we didn’t expect when we went to this relationship and leveraging the partnership in general,” McFee said. 

On the other hand, McFee says, it’s had a chance to work closely with Google to make Anthos better-suited to its needs, and learn how to get more out of it.

“It’s been cool to see the product get shaped by some of the feedback we’re able to provide,” McFee said. “Google has been a great partner. They’ve allowed us to talk to the engineers that are delivering the product to get their insight and get their feedback on how they’re implementing the features.”

A partnership with Google

Even before Anthos, KeyBank and Google Cloud had already gotten cozy with Google Kubernetes Engine, the tech titan’s managed Kubernetes service. While Kubernetes is open source, meaning free to download and use however you wish, partnering with Google meant getting the very latest updates and security fixes in a timely fashion. 

“Why not get support from the large maintainers and people that created the product?” McFee said. “From a Google perspective it allows us to be on the edge of new features and functionalities. Because we are a large enterprise and organization, it’s being able to get that support that enterprises would need.”

Before Kubernetes came to KeyBank, it used to take as long as a month just to get the servers ready for the developers to create new features. McFee says that now, it’s a week, meaning that the pace of development is that much faster. Furthermore, testing new code is simpler too, McFee says, because the feedback cycle on new features has gone from 30 days to instant.

“To get that real-time feedback is huge,” McFee said. “They’re going in and they can modify things they’ve been working on.”

Ultimately, KeyBank sees Kubernetes as a cornerstone to its digital strategy, helping it do more, faster.

“There’s lot of differentiated customer experiences where we want to innovate, push new features, and drive new product features,” McFee said. “We can get those new features and new capabilities tested faster. We can do it with a level of confidence that when we push those new changes, there’s going to be minimal customer impact.”

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SEE ALSO: $7.5 billion MongoDB explains how its partnership with Google Cloud is paying off with lots of new customers: ‘We’re benefiting from that macro-level push Google has in the market’

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