Cloud Value Radio

A cloud migration in wartime

Raiffeisen Bank Ukraine, a subsidiary of Austria’s Raiffeisen Bank International, began its cloud migration the day Russia invaded Ukraine. Within three war-torn months, it had migrated more than 1,000 servers to the cloud without a single business outage or need for extra vendor support. The bank, one of Ukraine’s top banks, with more than 6,000 employees (800 of them in technology roles), which works primarily with large enterprises, relied on a resourceful team of remote engineers who implemented a plan that enabled the bank to reap cloud-based rewards such as speed and time to market. Hryhorii Tatsyi, Raiffeisen Bank Ukraine’s CTO and leader of its FinOps community, discussed the challenges and benefits of the migration with partner James Kaplan and data strategist Chett Rubenstein of McKinsey. What follows are edited highlights from that conversation.

A sweeping transformation

James Kaplan: Hryhorii, can you tell us a little bit about Raiffeisen Bank Ukraine’s cloud journey?

Hryhorii Tatsyi: Two years ago, we launched a technical transformation and adopted a domain-driven design. We built ten different domains inside our company based on projects like loans, cards, payments, channels, technology, and security. This transformation was not connected to the cloud at first, but that was the bank’s goal, which I discussed with them when I joined the bank [in February 2021]. Approximately 98 percent of our bank is running on cloud at the moment.

James Kaplan: So the bank is heavily cloud oriented. How much of that was migration and how much of that was new development in the cloud?

Hryhorii Tatsyi: It’s hard to calculate, but about 20 percent of it is new, things like Kubernetes, microservices, and all that cool stuff. The rest is legacy technology. But even our legacy tech is not too bad and can leverage things like relational database services.

Saving time and money with cloud and FinOps

James Kaplan: What would you say have been the biggest benefits of moving to cloud? Cost? Speed? Resiliency?

Hryhorii Tatsyi: The biggest improvement for sure is speed and time to market. We significantly decreased our time-to-market metrics because teams can now work in parallel and separately on their own accounts. So we achieved independence. It’s also much easier to follow your operating expenses, since day by day, or even hour by hour, you can see how your speed influences your costs. And we’re spending less on cloud than what we budgeted for when we made the decision to migrate.

After our migration, our bill was $700,000 per month, because we were paying for capabilities we didn’t need. But within two months, our bills significantly decreased, to less than $350,000 per month, which we achieved through the FinOps community I created.

When we launched our technical transformation two years ago and adopted the domain-driven design, a FinOps representative from each domain participated in this community. Every two weeks we had—and still have—a community call to share our results, as if we were competitors. That way, we could learn who achieved the best results and why. Who had the most efficient EBS storage? Who had the most efficient EC2 instance? Who saved the most?

James Kaplan: Do the development teams actually get charged for their usage?

Hryhorii Tatsyi: That’s part of a mindset change. You build it, you run it. You are responsible for writing code to run in this environment paid for by your domain owner or business owner. It’s like your business paying for your toys, and you understand how much your toys cost right now. We are using Cudos to track expenses, which is like Grafana on steroids for FinOps.

James Kaplan: Stepping back a little bit, can you talk about how much the operating model changed as you adopted cloud? How much did the work of the technology teams and development teams change?

Hryhorii Tatsyi: The adoption completely changed our operating model. We launched a new Terraform crew utilizing the InnerSource model, and right now our platform is fully InnerSource. Previously, we had a single owner for each platform who was responsible for access management and interoperability. Domains or departments had visibility of these platforms but weren’t easily allowed access to them. My colleagues had to send a written Jira request to the platform owner to get anything done, which was very cumbersome. Ultimately, we got rid of this model. Now, each of our ten domains has equal access to our version control system, GitHub, and all our platforms. Each domain can now write its own Terraform scripts to provision tech assets and review pull requests.

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Migrating under fire

Chett Rubenstein: I’d like to turn to the events of last year. You mentioned you migrated to cloud in just three months. Could you tell us about that?

Hryhorii Tatsyi: That’s correct. We did this migration in three months, because we didn’t have a choice. We all worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day or more, to migrate more than 1,000 servers during the first three months. We didn’t have any business outages, spent zero dollars for additional vendor support, and made everything work with our hands, with our heads, and with our hearts. But we were super-motivated. More than three million customers depend on us, and if we lose, Ukraine will lose, because people will lose trust in the banking system. That’s the reason we did it so fast, and so quietly, without shutting down any business capabilities, although there was some reduction in banking hours at night because we needed time for server transition and maintenance.

James Kaplan: So you had a sustainable portion of the data environment running in on-premises data centers in Ukraine. And in order to ensure continuity of operations, you wanted to get those out of local data centers and onto a global cloud provider that could offer a degree of distance and resiliency you could never possibly provide on-premises. And you were able to migrate a big chunk of the environment within three months because you were motivated. As a result, the bank continues to run and you’re still a critical part of the Ukrainian economy. Is that a fair statement?

Hryhorii Tatsyi: Yes, that’s right.

Difficult task, easy decision

James Kaplan: It’s a fascinating and, quite frankly, very inspiring story, one that highlights enterprise technology at its best in many ways. Was the decision to do this obvious?

Hryhorii Tatsyi: It was the easiest decision of my life. When I woke up at 5 a.m. on February 24, 2022 (the day Russia invaded Ukraine), I decided we would begin migrating to the cloud right away. I called my boss and said, “Let’s start.”

We had made some preparations and understood that if the invasion really happened, we would do it. Luckily, we have a senior manager responsible for business continuity management (BCM), Yevhen Baliutov, who prepared everyone for every possible scenario. I am 31 years old, and I didn’t believe this war would happen. But Yevhen said, “Everything can happen. Don’t be a victim in this scenario. Be prepared, do your job, and we will deal with everything.” And that’s what happened.

James Kaplan: Was the cloud foundation in place prior to the war starting?

Hryhorii Tatsyi: No, it wasn’t. And we could not have done it even if we had wanted to, because of legislation that prevented banks from using servers outside of Ukraine. We were always very respectful of the law, and breaking it was a red line for us. But February 24 showed us it was OK to hedge a little. And after maybe three, four hours, our governance people said, “Guys, do it, please.”

Migrating without a road map

James Kaplan: To what extent were you able to follow a playbook, and to what extent were you sort of innovating and figuring this out as you went along?

Hryhorii Tatsyi: We had just a high-level plan that said, “We will do that, and that, and that.” But we didn’t know how. We understood that we should migrate these servers but didn’t know how to do it in reality. So all the decisions on actually making it work were made during the migration. That worked because we already had experience with different cloud platforms; most of my team had worked with the cloud in different roles with different companies. When I came to Raiffeisen, I started putting an experienced cloud team together, because I knew migration would happen sooner or later.

James Kaplan: Was your team mostly remote or mostly on-site?

Hryhorii Tatsyi: Everyone worked remotely. We had people in Vinnytsia, Kyiv, Odesa, and some worked from abroad, from Vienna and Serbia.

James Kaplan: Was this a business-as-usual type of thing, not specific to the circumstances?

Hryhorii Tatsyi: Half and half, because COVID actually prepared us. Some people already worked remotely, and approximately 50 percent of our people worked on-site in our offices. But because of the war, they emigrated to safer places, inside and outside of Ukraine.

Don’t overthink it, be brave, and just do it

Chett Rubenstein: I’m fascinated and inspired by the fact that the war motivated you guys to do what you did in three months. But are there lessons we can apply in a non-war situation to still achieve that kind of velocity and speed of innovation? I’d love to hear your thoughts on that, if you have any takeaways from that experience.

Hryhorii Tatsyi: The war was the big motivating factor. But even without war, if you are brave enough and you make the decision to do it, just do it. Don’t think about it too much, take care of your product, and just do it. Some of the companies that did the migration with us were really overthinking everything, always asking, “What happens if …?” You can’t always do real testing, so just try. And you don’t always need a 99.9 percent service-level agreement. Just do it. Believe in your people and be brave.

James Kaplan: Are there learnings from your experience being disseminated across the rest of the bank to other geographies? Are people from elsewhere in the Raiffeisen Bank group looking at this and thinking they can migrate by taking your advice about moving aggressively?

Hryhorii Tatsyi: Actually, we’ve already had a few calls with different countries. Tomorrow we have a call with Tatra Banka in Slovakia, which is part of our group. And I’ll say to them just as I said to you: Don’t overthink it, be brave, and just do it.

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