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UBS throws lot in with Microsoft, migrating 50% of apps to Azure

Five-year blueprint to modernize tech estate, but cloud still not for everyone in finance sector

UBS, one of the largest private banks in the world, is preparing to send more workloads into Microsoft's Azure cloud in pursuit of lower energy consumption and to accelerate digital services for customers.

The Swiss-based financial institution opted for a cloud-first strategy in 2018 when it intended to move a third of its applications to Azure. That goal, UBS says, was achieved earlier than planned by February last year.

Now the intent is to shift 50 percent of applications, including critical workloads, to Azure over the next half a decade. The embracing of cloud has "fundamentally changed the way we operate, allowing us two reinvigorate our technology estate and reimagine how we build applications for our clients," said Mike Dargan, chief digital and information officer at the bank.

"The development and learnings that stem from this partnership will benefit the financial services industry and beyond," he claimed.

Microsoft said it co-developed services with UBS since 2018, including Carbon Aware, open source software that advises on when to schedule workloads that need heavy compute power at times when clean, renewable or lower carbon sources are more freely available. This was subsequently sent to the Green Software Foundation to be shared with other organizations.

Further, Microsoft claims that by moving from on-premises and private cloud servers to Azure, UBS saved energy consumption of those workloads by 30 percent to date.

The companies say they are looking into how software and data can be used to build more services for UBS clients and staff. UBS already operates applications that use conversational AI features to respond to clients' emailed queries. It will also use Microsoft's Power Platform for the purpose of letting employees build apps and automate workflows, as well as connect "disparate" data sources.

Banks were initially reluctant to jump into the cloud due to regulatory compliance and security fears but some are taking great strides. Santander, for example, said in May that some 80 percent of its core banking infrastructure was in the cloud.

At the time, Jon C Davies, research director at TechMarketView, said that given the nature of tech projects, like the one at Santander, it is possible the "most challenging elements of the cloud migration are likely to still remain. As a result, it is not necessarily straightforward to predict just how long Santander still has to go before its cloud journey is complete."

Google is readying a mainframe modernization service that will try to simplify and reduce the risk of switching workloads to the cloud. AWS launched its equivalent service in June.

Yet the cloud is not for all. In the UK, for example, The Future of Cloud Banking report by digital transformation specialist Publicis Sapient estimates banks in general have only moved 30 percent of applications to the cloud. In North America it is hovering around the 29 percent mark.

"Despite the lack of progress in some areas, 68 percent of banks believe they are ahead of the competition in innovation. This suggests some level of complacency," commented said Jan-Willem Weggemans, head of Cloud Practice at the company.

Migrations are complex and can go catastrophically wrong. ®

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