Tag: Managed Cloud Services

14 May 2020
Key Benefits of Cloud Infrastructure for Banking IT Operations

Key Benefits of Cloud Infrastructure for Banking IT Operations

Key Benefits of Cloud Infrastructure for Banking IT Operations

Cloud technology has been driving efficiency and innovation across many industries for years and today, many community banks and credit unions are adopting cloud services for their IT operations.

In a recent webinar, Safe Systems presented an overview of cloud infrastructure and the key benefits to financial institutions. Here are a few points to keep in mind if you’re thinking about implementing cloud services:

Data Centers

Cloud service providers, like Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services, have some of the best data centers in the world, providing space, power, cooling, and physical security. You no longer have to worry about the management burdens of an on-premise solution or co-location when your servers and applications are hosted in a secure cloud environment.

Lifecycle Management

The cost of server hardware does not end with its purchase. There are hidden costs of tracking which assets are still healthy, supported, and under warranty. Replacing aging equipment every few years often requires a complex project that impacts availability and takes time away from meeting more important objectives. With cloud services, you can eliminate lifecycle management of your server equipment, enabling you to focus your effort on higher-value projects that drive your business.

Availability

When you adopt cloud services, the availability of your critical application infrastructure and data is the responsibility of the cloud provider. The major cloud providers are able to attract and retain the best talent in the world to keep systems healthy and secure. They deliver your services from a highly resilient network of multiple data centers, vastly reducing your dependency on any single datacenter.

Flexibility

  • Experimentation
  • If your goal is to develop a specialized project for your institution, a platform like Microsoft Azure has many different services to make it easy for you to test scenarios or try new ideas without investing in hardware or navigating the justification and purchase order process. You simply visit the website, turn on a resource, and experiment. Later, you’re able to turn it off with no further commitment.

  • Fast Turnup and Fast Turndown
  • Cloud services enable you to get up and running fairly quickly in this new environment. Instead of having to order hardware and wait for it to be shipped or spend time setting up the solution, you can go from having an idea to having the solution turned on literally within a few minutes. Fast turndown is equally important. When you no longer need the solution, you can simply turn it off, and more importantly, the billing ends as well.

  • Elasticity
  • The elasticity of cloud service means that you can add capacity when you need it and remove expense when you don’t. For periodic computing tasks, like month-end processes, extra computing power can be added to your cloud services and then removed after the job is complete. This is more cost-effective than building an infrastructure that is sized for the busiest day of the year.

  • Serverless Functions
  • Lastly, large cloud providers have many advanced functions that can provide community banks and credit unions with new capabilities like serverless computing. Some workloads that traditionally required a dedicated server, like a Microsoft SQL database, may be able to move into a serverless alternative like Azure SQL. This creates the opportunity to start reducing the quantity of Windows Server instances that need to be patched and maintained.

Cloud infrastructure allows community banks and credit unions to reduce servers, internal infrastructure, and applications that would typically have to be hosted on-premises, in addition to the associated support each one requires. It also enables you to experiment and find the right services that fit your institution’s corporate strategy and IT objectives.

To learn more about cloud services, including cloud-based disaster recovery, watch our webinar recording, “The Cloud: Recovery and Resiliency is Just a Click Away.”

07 May 2020
How the Cloud Revolutionizes Disaster Recovery for Financial Institutions

How the Cloud Revolutionizes Disaster Recovery for Financial Institutions

How the Cloud Revolutionizes Disaster Recovery for Financial Institutions

Disaster recovery is a concern for all financial institutions, regardless of size or location, and is essential to protecting data, infrastructure, and overall business operations. In addition to having a thorough disaster recovery (DR) plan, community banks and credit unions need to have a solid site recovery environment to facilitate a quick return to normal business operations, in the event of a natural disaster or other disruption.

Cloud disaster recovery solutions are growing in popularity among many community banks and credit unions. However, it is important to understand the key differences in site recovery models to determine the best fit for your institution.

In a recent webinar, Brendan McGowan, Chief Technology Officer at Safe Systems, outlined the three most common site recovery models available to community banks and credit unions today and discussed key considerations when implementing each.

In-House Site Recovery

When using an in-house site recovery model, financial institutions commonly have a virtualized server environment. These machines often run in a VMware vSphere environment which sits on top of a storage array. On the DR side, there is essentially a clone of the production environment to receive the replicated data. This works well for many financial institutions, however, there are a few considerations to keep in mind.

House Site Recovery

With in-house site recovery, you’ll need to:

  • Have redundant hardware in the DR environment at an additional cost.
  • Purchase an additional facility like a co-location or branch for DR.
  • Oversee hardware and software lifecycle management for both production and DR environments.
  • Set up dedicated connectivity like multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) to point replication to the DR environment.
  • Conduct regular maintenance to ensure all replications are healthy and perform periodic testing.
  • Have significant expertise and talent to make sure the system works correctly and consistently.

Cloud Site Recovery

In this model, the production environment remains the same, but the hardware and software used in the DR environment are replaced with a cloud-based solution. With cloud site recovery, financial institutions don’t have to pay for servers and computing time until the day they need to turn on the disaster recovery solution. Until then, the institution will only be billed for the amount of storage it consumes.

Cloud Site Recovery

When you use a cloud site recovery solution like Microsoft Azure Site Recovery, you create a storage pool to receive replication from a small server on-premise, which is the cloud site recovery replication server. The replication server works by having each of your production servers send its data changes in real-time to the cloud application server. This server is compressing, encrypting, and deduplicating all of the incoming data and continuously shipping it securely to your cloud site recovery storage pool.

With the cloud site recovery model, you no longer have to:

  • Deal with redundant hardware on the DR side since everything is stored in the cloud.
  • Manage hardware and lifecycle management on the DR-side.
  • Pay for separate facilities since the data is in the cloud, and you can store your data anywhere in the world.
  • Worry about dedicated connectivity because you can send all of the replication over the internet with a simple virtual private network (VPN).
  • Handle all of the maintenance or have the expertise required to run the system.

Cloud-Native Resilience

In the cloud-native site recovery model, both the production and disaster recovery environments are in the Cloud. To set up the cloud environment, using Microsoft Azure, for example, you can sign up for Azure Virtual Machines, which would correlate to VMware vSphere in your environment. After that, you can set up your production virtual machines.

Cloud-Native Site Recovery

At this point, you can register for cloud site recovery for your institution’s individual virtual machines. Once you’ve selected your machines for replication, the system automatically moves that data to whichever Azure zone you select so you get to choose some zone disparity.

In the cloud-native resilience model:

  • There is no Azure site replication server as there was in the cloud site recovery model.
  • Since both environments are cloud-native, all the data is in the cloud and you need not worry about a replication server. Simply check a box to turn it on.
  • In addition, file backup is also a simple checkbox for each server, providing you the option to choose the location to store the data.

Migrating to cloud-based services is a great option to reduce maintenance; significantly speed up the disaster recovery process; and improve overall operations for your institution. If you are interested in implementing a cloud-based disaster recovery solution, Safe Systems can help you determine the right environment for your institution.

To learn more about disaster recovery and moving to the Cloud, watch our recorded webinar, “The Cloud: Recovery and Resiliency is Just a Click Away.”

10 Oct 2019
5 Things Community Banks and Credit Unions Should Budget for in 2020

5 Things Community Banks and Credit Unions Should Budget for in 2020

5 Things Community Banks and Credit Unions Should Budget for in 2020

The final months of the year signal the beginning of many traditions. For community banks and credit unions, the Fall marks the start of budget season. Financial institutions use this time to assess the year’s performance, make necessary adjustments—or full upgrades—for 2020 and beyond.

As you know, technology and security are constantly evolving, and compliance continues to be a moving target, so it’s time to consider important areas your institution needs to budget for in the next year. To ensure that your institution heads into 2020 on an upward trajectory, here are five key items to include on your list.

  1. Hardware
  2. Every year hardware should be evaluated to see if it is under warranty; in good working condition; and that the operating system hasn’t reached end of life.

    Two dates to be aware of:

    • SQL Server 2008 R2 reached end of life on 7/9/2019
    • Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2 reach end of life on January 14, 2020

    These items will need to be upgraded or replaced as soon as possible with supported software. If the decision is to replace a server based on these products being end of life, there are options to consider as covered in number 2 in this article.

  3. Cloud vs. In-house Infrastructure
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    Moving internal infrastructure out of the office is the new trend. This move feels similar to the move to virtualization, in that everyone agrees this is the next logical step in the evolution of computing. You should be asking the same question about cloud infrastructure as you did about virtualization—when is the right time for your institution to make the move and what are the pros and cons of this move? When the time comes to replace pieces of your infrastructure, start to gather information about the benefits of moving to the cloud and the costs associated with it. Remember, each server has both direct and indirect costs.

    Direct:

    • Server Hardware
    • Warranty
    • Software

    Indirect:

    • Electricity
    • Cooling
    • Storage/physical space
    • Maintenance
    • Backup
    • Disaster Recovery

    Each year as hardware becomes outdated and needs to be replaced, evaluate whether moving that server to the Cloud makes sense. Be sure that the functions of the server can be accomplished in a cloud environment. Once a presence in the cloud is established, future growth and changes become much easier and quicker.

  5. Firewalls
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    Firewalls continue to evolve as network and cybersecurity threats evolve and change. Ten years ago, adding intrusion prevention systems (IPS) to firewalls became commonplace in the industry. Now there are a host of new features that can be added to your firewall to improve your institution’s security posture. Many of these fall under products using the term next-gen firewalls. A few key features to consider include:

    • Secure Sockets Layer, or SSL, is the industry standard for transmitting secure data over the internet. The good news is most websites on the internet now use SSL to secure the traffic between the PC and the website. The bad news is, your firewall may be protecting your institution from fewer sites than ever before. Google researchers found that 85% of the websites visited by people using the Chrome browser are sites encrypted with SSL. This means that for many firewalls, 85% of web traffic cannot be inspected by the firewall. Many firewalls can perform SSL inspection but may require a model with more capacity; a new license to activate the feature; and configuration changes to enable this feature to work.
    • Sandbox analysis is a security mechanism used to analyze suspect data and execute it in a sandbox environment to evaluate its behavior. This is a great feature to introduce to your infrastructure because it provides more testing and insight into the data coming into your institution.
    • Threat intelligence feeds (like FS ISAC), built-in network automation, and correlation alerting are also important features that can help you keep track of emerging security threats; automate key processes; and improve your institution’s cybersecurity posture.

    Consider enhancing your firewall features or upgrading to a next-gen firewall to ensure the traffic traversing your firewall is truly being evaluated and inspected.

  7. Virtual Information Security Officer (VISO)
  8. A newer service that has grown in popularity over the last year is the Virtual ISO or VISO role. While services like this have been available for a while, this is the first year we have heard so much talk from community financial institutions. As the job of Information Security Officer (ISO) has become more involved the expertise needed has grown as well. These VISO services offer a way to supplement the internal staff with external expertise to accomplish the tasks of the ISO. Budgeting for a service like this becomes critical if one of the following is true:

    • No one else in the institution has the needed knowledge base and finding this knowledge set in your area is difficult or expensive;
    • Your current ISO does not have a background in the field or is wearing too many hats to do it well;
    • Your current ISO is likely to retire or leave due to predictable life change events; or
    • The role of ISO and Network Administrator or other IT personnel do not provide adequate separation of duties at the institution.

  9. Disaster Recovery (DR)
  10. Many institutions do not have a fully actionable or testable disaster recovery process. A verified DR process is a critical element of meeting business continuity planning (BCP) requirements. Therefore, this can be a significant reputational risk for the financial institution, if not done correctly. If your institution hasn’t completed a thorough and successful DR test in the last 12 months, it is time to evaluate your current DR process. Using a managed site recovery service can ensure you have the proper technology and support to thoroughly test your DR plan and recover quickly in the event of a disaster.

    Budget season is a time to address needs and wants, but also a time to seek improvement or evaluate key changes for the new year and beyond. For example, moving your infrastructure to the cloud may not make sense for the coming year, but the insight gained by evaluating it this budget season improves your knowledge-base for when it is time to make that decision. As we conclude 2019, we hope these insights position your institution for a productive budget season and a successful 2020.

29 Aug 2019
Capitalizing on Cloud Infrastructure

Capitalizing on Cloud Infrastructure: Everything Financial Institutions Need to Know About Moving to the Cloud

Capitalizing on Cloud Infrastructure

Capitalizing on Cloud Infrastructure: Everything Financial Institutions Need to Know About Moving to the Cloud

As financial institutions refine their digital strategy to keep up with market and regulatory demands, cloud computing is emerging as the future of banking technology. There are a myriad of reasons institutions should capitalize on cloud computing, including enhanced scalability, efficiency, reliability, risk management and regulatory compliance. Despite these and other appealing benefits, it can be intimidating for community banks and credit unions to move to the Cloud.

In this post, we examine some of the most important issues related to moving to the Cloud to help institutions streamline the decision-making process, determine what can and should be moved to the Cloud, and examine the cost and security issues of cloud computing. Hopefully, this will shed light on how beneficial cloud-based solutions can be and provide the information IT managers need to make the best decision for their institution.

Three Questions to Ask Before Moving to the Cloud

 
Hosting applications and systems on a cloud network can be appealing to community banks and credit unions as it allows them to reduce servers, internal infrastructure, and applications that would typically have to be hosted inside the institution, as well as the associated support each one requires. It also offers the benefits of system standardization, centralization of information, and the simplification of IT management. However, here are three essential questions financial institutions should ask before moving to the Cloud:

  1. Which applications can be moved to the Cloud? Evaluating which applications can be moved to the Cloud and which vendors offer cloud-based solutions is really the first step. This will help IT managers understand issues and elements that will be solved or created by the move to the Cloud. For example, even with cloud-based solutions, they will still need to manage user workstations, security issues, connections to applications, as well as switches and routers.
  2. Is the institution’s internet connectivity strong enough to support cloud-based solutions? Delays in loading cloud-based applications can be frustrating as well as costly. The increased use of cloud-based computing will place added demands on internet speed and connectivity, making a strong connection critical for the success and health of the financial institution. This is a very important consideration when determining whether to move to cloud-based services. Confirming the availability of the proper connectivity—including a redundant internet connection to ensure access at all times—will help streamline this transition.
  3. Are there additional compliance issues to consider when selecting a cloud vendor? Moving to a cloud-based application will mean giving up some controls to a cloud vendor. When selecting a vendor, institutions must evaluate their practices and strategies for user identity and access management, data protection, incident response, and SOC 2 Type II documentation. They should have a solid vendor management program in place to verify that their vendors are compliant and are following the service agreement.

Financial Implications of Migrating to the Cloud

 

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Migrating to the Cloud commonly requires an organization to move from a capital expenditure (CAPEX) to an operating expenditure (OPEX) financial model. The difference in long-term costs can be difficult to measure as many of the internal costs of managing an IT network are not documented.

Most community banks and credit unions have a good understanding of their IT capital expenditures. The up-front, fixed costs, such as hardware and software, and the resulting amortized or depreciated costs over the life of the asset, are historically well tracked. Traditionally, an on-premise infrastructure is considered a capital expenditure since it includes the purchase of servers, computers, and networking hardware, as well as software licenses, maintenance, and upgrades.

What is not generally well documented are the internal costs involved with running the system, including the power, cooling, floor space, storage, physical security, and the time IT teams devote to the daily management and continual maintenance of these systems. In addition, the equipment and software will need to be upgraded or replaced periodically, making for on-going large capital costs in years to come.

The move to the Cloud means a move from a CAPEX financial model to an operating expenditure model, in which large capital outlays are replaced by monthly, quarterly, or annual fees an institution pays to operate the business. These periodic OPEX fees include license fees for software access, as well as all the infrastructure and maintenance costs associated with the technical environment. Hosting an application in the Cloud via a Software as a Service (SaaS) model can minimize required capital investments for the institution. It can enable them to be up to date with the latest technology which can lead to generating more profits and ROI. The OPEX model can also provide the IT staff more time to focus on strategic revenue-generating and customer-facing activities.

The evaluation of CAPEX and OPEX expenditures is not an apples-to-apples comparison. It is important for IT management to understand the differences between the CAPEX and OPEX models, perform an analysis, and be able to effectively communicate the pros and cons before presenting a proposal to leadership.

Four Steps for Moving Server Workloads to the Cloud

 

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Today, banking services are increasingly being hosted in the Cloud. Cloud outsourcing often begins with specific IT functions or processes such as disaster recovery, backup, and supporting servers. However, a financial institution can be strongly in favor of cloud computing without moving 100 percent to the Cloud. For example, a bank could easily have its ancillary systems and lending in the Cloud and maintain its core in-house.

There is a great deal of infrastructure involved in managing all the applications needed to run an efficient and successful financial institution. While cloud technology has proven to be beneficial for community banks and credit unions by enabling their limited in-house personnel to focus on core strategic initiatives, there are four important factors institutions should carefully consider before moving their data to the Cloud. They are:

  1. Support the financial institution’s business strategy
     
    Some organizations consider moving to the Cloud simply because they think it is the right thing to do; however, there is no set path that all financial institutions must follow.
    Each community bank or credit union has a unique strategy driven by its market situation, whether that includes business expansion, rapid disaster recovery, or replacing existing servers or hardware. An institution’s decisions about cloud computing ultimately must align with its business goals, strategies, and objectives.
  2. Identify the application opportunities
     
    Not all business processes and applications are suitable for the Cloud. Before moving to the Cloud, the IT team must understand the requirements of their business applications. They should evaluate the data footprint, transaction types, and frequency, as well as the IT infrastructure that is being used to host each application in order to determine which applications need to remain on-premise and which can be moved to the Cloud.
  3. Determine the best path to the Cloud
     
    Once the institution’s cloud and business strategies have been aligned, and its applications have been identified, it is ready to migrate supporting servers, applications and other assets to the Cloud.
     
    There are several approaches that institutions can use to facilitate their migration to the Cloud. They can simply move the physical servers they already have to a co-location facility or data center. This can be an attractive option since it does not require extensive configuration changes to applications and servers but moves these critical assets out of their building to a highly available data center.
     
    Or a financial institution can adopt an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) model. This means that instead of physically moving the servers it owns, a bank or credit union can lease the server capacity that it needs from a third-party provider. The institution can then access the servers remotely to install, run, and maintain its applications.
     
    As a third option, financial institutions can implement the Software as a Service (SaaS) model. With this licensing fee and delivery model, software is licensed on a subscription basis and is centrally hosted by the application software provider. This approach enables community banks and credit unions to run their applications from a browser that is supported by the developer, so there is no additional infrastructure to maintain.
  4. Develop a Phased Approach
     
    Long term, financial institutions should consider using a graduated approach to moving their applications to the Cloud. The migration should be completed in multiple phases to enable a smoother transition. However, the applications that are not technically ready should not be moved as this can cause unnecessary complications and technical issues.

Misconceptions About Cloud Security

 

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Many community banks and credit unions struggle with truly understanding the security differences of housing their sensitive data in the Cloud vs. keeping it housed on servers and hardware solutions that are located on-premise.

Having sensitive data housed in a cloud-based data center is uniquely different from maintaining on-premise resources for data storage. So, it makes sense that security-related issues and concerns would need to be addressed and considered prior to cloud migration. Understandably, some institutions might have lingering doubts about whether they can truly trust a cloud-based data center that they can’t physically see or control.

Let’s take a look at some of the common issues and misconceptions organizations have about cloud security:

  1. Misconception #1: The Cloud is not secure
     
    To the contrary, the Cloud can enable financial institutions to experience as much as or more security than with an on-premise environment—and without the hassle and expense of maintaining physical servers and storage devices. Major cloud service providers have the technical expertise and strict internal processes to physically secure their IT hardware against unauthorized access, theft, fires, flooding and other potential hazards. For example, Microsoft® employs thousands of cybersecurity experts and cutting-edge technology such as artificial intelligence to detect, respond to and thwart security threats.
     
    In addition, cloud providers often give their customers access to extra security programs and resources. This can make it easier for organizations to more effectively combat threats like data loss, leaks, and hacking. Of course, no security model—even one that uses a multi-layered approach—is perfect, but a cloud solution protected by substantial security measures can ultimately enhance a financial institution’s security posture.
  2. Misconception #2: The provider is responsible for keeping data secure in the Cloud
     
    A common concern for many financial institutions who are considering moving to the Cloud is determining who is responsible for data security moving forward—the cloud services provider or the customer? The short answer is both parties. Data security is typically a shared responsibility and requires banks and credit unions to continue monitoring the security of their solutions to ensure the data is secure and meets all regulatory requirements.
  3. Misconception #3: Data can be easily lost in the Cloud
     
    Information resiliency is a key differentiator for cloud-based services. These solutions help reduce the likelihood of data loss if key security features and backups are enabled and used appropriately.
     
    In addition, cloud services can help financial institutions recover quickly from business disruptions like equipment failure, power outages, and natural disasters. This provides financial institutions with continuous access to data and other critical applications, enabling business operations to run smoothly.
  4. Misconception #4: Anyone can access data in the Cloud
     
    The Cloud actually prevents unauthorized individuals from accessing data on the network because cloud providers use a variety of security processes to control points of access. Most cloud providers use data encryption to protect data while it’s being stored and during transmission as well as multi-factor authentication to require two or more forms of verification to access the system.
     
    Moreover, cloud services providers maintain detailed activity logs that show who accessed, created and modified data. Having this type of intelligence allows cloud vendors to better understand unusual activities, detect potential threats and more effectively protect the client’s data.

Final Thoughts

 
Building a strategy for cloud computing can be intimidating. All community banks and credit unions have a unique business strategy that will guide how they migrate to the Cloud, what type of cloud solution is best for their environment, and what specific technology assets should be moved to the Cloud.

Working with an experienced service provider such as Safe Systems can simplify the process. Safe Systems helps institutions design and install cloud solutions while also ensuring their systems are compliant and meet examiner expectations.

07 Feb 2019
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Safe Systems’ “Banking Bits and Bytes with Brendan” Video Series on Managed Cloud Services Now Available

Safe Systems Launches Banking Bits and Bytes with Brendan Educational Video Series

The first course in our educational video series, “Banking Bits and Bytes with Brendan,” is now complete and available! The series, launched in December 2018, is designed to educate and inform our customers and friends in financial services on the technology trends and issues that are impacting our industry on a day-to-day basis. Our Chief Technology Officer and recognized expert in banking technology, Brendan McGowan, acts as the “professor,” taking a humorous approach to complex and challenging topics related to technology, compliance and security. We believe Brendan’s expertise, knowledge and insights ensure each video is a valuable resource.

The first video series focuses on the cloud and features six video lessons, each approximately 2-3 minutes long, for subscribers to view. In each, Brendan addresses common questions, dispels myths, and offers advice on the best way to think about — and successfully implement — a cloud strategy. Each video is hosted on YouTube as well as this website.

This subscription-based series features video lessons sorted by topic that can be watched at the viewer’s own pace and convenience, and serves as a way for us to share some of our expertise gained from 25 years of serving financial institutions.

We invite you to subscribe to “Banking Bits and Bytes with Brendan” to gain access to upcoming lessons, as well as exclusive content or advance notice when new lessons become available.

To view the video and subscribe to the series, visit “Banking Bits and Bytes with Brendan.”

 

24 Jan 2019
What Community Financial Institutions Should Look for in a Managed Services Provider

What Community Financial Institutions Should Look for in a Managed Services Provider

What Community Financial Institutions Should Look for in a Managed Services Provider

The majority of banks and credit unions rely on managed services providers to help them improve efficiencies in their organization, meet mounting regulatory compliance requirements, and provide the competitive products and services their customers and members expect.

However, selecting the right managed services provider can be challenging. We have highlighted some key qualities that community banks and credit unions should look for when choosing trusted partners.

A managed services provider should have a true understanding of the following areas:

The community banking and credit union industries

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A managed services provider must truly understand the “ins and outs” of operating a community bank or credit union. This includes recognizing the industry trends, realizing the importance of priorities, such as customer- and/or member-service related touch points, and understanding regulatory and compliance issues. Not knowing how a community financial institution operates is a hindrance that can prohibit the provider from effectively meeting the demands of the institution and makes it unlikely that it will be in a position to offer informed recommendations on improvements and solutions to existing issues.

Financial services technology

Technology is ever-changing and it is nearly impossible for any one person to successfully keep up with all of the advancements. To provide the technological solutions and services that a community bank or credit union requires, a managed services provider should understand the technical requirements of all banking technology solutions, starting with the core platform. Since many applications have to work with — and integrate into — the core platform, it is impossible to design an efficient and comprehensive network without first an understanding of core platforms and banking technology.

Regulatory compliance requirements

The evolving world of financial regulatory compliance governs every aspect of your IT network and that includes what hardware and software you choose to deploy. In today’s banking environment, vendors must be able to make recommendations on how to manage hardware and software to meet regulatory expectations, meet regulatory expectations such as, verifying all patches, ensuring security measures are up to date, and maintaining access to critical services during a disaster.

Working with the wrong managed services provider can be time-consuming, cumbersome, and even stressful. However, working with a provider who offers the desired services and who truly understands your industry can help guide the institution in today’s challenging financial environment. A good partnership is key to ensuring your organization remains competitive and profitable for years to come.

19 Dec 2018
Safe Systems Launches Banking Bits and Bytes with Brendan Educational Video Series

Safe Systems Launches “Banking Bits and Bytes with Brendan” Educational Video Series

Safe Systems Launches Banking Bits and Bytes with Brendan Educational Video Series

Safe Systems launched a new educational video series, “Banking Bits and Bytes with Brendan,” to help educate and inform customers and the financial services industry on trends and issues the industry is dealing with on a day-to-day basis. Banking Bits and Bytes with Brendan will showcase our Chief Technology Office, Brendan McGowan, who is an expert in all things related to banking technology.

Each video is a small bite of information (approximately 2-3 minutes in duration) that teaches viewers complex technology, compliance, and security topics. The videos will be sorted by topic and can be watched at the viewer’s own pace and convenience.

This video series is subscription-based and a way for us to help educate our customers by leveraging the expertise gained from 25 years serving community financial institutions. As the industry continues to change and evolve at a rapid pace, our knowledgeable staff serves as a valuable asset to guide our customers and help them ensure compliance, streamline processes and provide superior service in their communities. Brendan’s expertise, knowledge, and insights in banking technology will ensure each video is a valuable resource for the industry.

Here at Safe Systems, Brendan oversees the development of strategic technology solutions that support key banking initiatives for community banks and credit unions and enhance their ability to manage IT in an effective and compliant manner. In 2016, he was named to Georgia Southern University’s 2016 40 Under 40 List, which highlights professionals who represent the best young leaders under the age of 40.

The first Banking Bits and Bytes with Brendan video series focuses on Managed Cloud Services, a broad topic where Brendan addresses common questions, dispels myths, and offers advice on the best way to think about and implement a cloud strategy. Each video is hosted on YouTube as well as this website. Subscribers can not only gain access to upcoming lessons, but also exclusive content or advance notice when new lessons become available.

The first two video lessons in the Managed Cloud Services series are now live on our website. To view the video and subscribe to the series, please watch below or visit the Banking Bits and Bytes with Brendan page.

 

28 Nov 2018
What Community Banks and Credit Unions Should Budget for in 2019

What Community Banks and Credit Unions Should Budget for in 2019

What Community Banks and Credit Unions Should Budget for in 2019

As 2018 winds down, banks and credit unions are thinking ahead to 2019. They are determining the new solutions, products, and enhancements needed to meet their strategic plans in 2019 and beyond. In addition, they are evaluating what needs to be updated or upgraded and the processes that can be improved upon.

There are three key areas banks and credit unions should focus on during budgeting season – technology, security and compliance. While lines that separate technology, security, and compliance are blurry at best, 2019 budgeting items for operations fall largely into these three buckets.

Compliance

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While the focus of many examiners has shifted back to financial aspects of institutions, the top three findings our customers report relate to:

  1. Vendor Management – Typically the current vendor management solution (if it exists at all) is deemed inadequate or insufficient. Often the solution doesn’t cover all vendors or provide a way to adequately assess these vendors.
  2. Business Continuity Planning (BCP) – In the mid to late 2000’s many banks and credit unions updated their Business Continuity Plan. However, for many institutions, these plans have remained relatively unchanged for a decade now. Technology and business processes on the other hand, have changed rapidly over the last decade. The Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) has also updated their guidance to address the current challenges of BCP. If the institution’s plan has not been thoroughly updated in a while, the institution may be at risk of a finding on a future exam.
  3. With both of these findings there may be an additional finding of inadequate management or board oversight. Often these findings happen on the same exam and are followed with a concern with oversight. Many of the calls Safe Systems gets after an exam relate to these issues.

Avoid finding yourself under a Memorandum of Understanding or a Matters Require Attention by budgeting to ensure your compliance processes are up to date.

Vendor Management solutions can run from $2,500 to more than $6,000 per year. Business Continuity Plans can range more significantly from a couple of thousand to more than seven thousand dollars per year. Do some research and find some solutions that would meet your institution’s needs and identify their year one cost and annual cost thereafter.

Security

With attacks on the rise and businesses continually falling victim to cybercrime, security needs to be an institution’s priority. There are innovative solutions coming to market every day to help address security risks. These solutions can help mitigate the risks that your institution faces, but they can also cause confusion on where you should focus your attention. For the next several years, it is in the institution’s best interest to continually focus on the impending security landscape and verify that your budget reflects your strategy.

One place to start is to review your current solutions. Verify that your current investments are still applicable for your ever-changing environment. Upon investigation, you might find features that are available as an add-on to your current solution to help mitigate risk. You may also find holes in your current strategy that may need to be rectified.

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As of October 2018, 90% of web traffic accessed through Chrome, the most popular web browser, was encrypted. These numbers have been increasing rapidly over the last few years. Many firewalls can only inspect unencrypted web traffic. This was a small risk when encrypted websites were less common. With the sudden rise of encrypted web traffic, many firewalls are NOT equipped to scan this data. It is possible to scan encrypted web traffic, but for many institutions this will require changes and additional investment. The risk of not scanning this encrypted web traffic significantly increases the chances of your institution becoming a victim of a malware outbreak or a data breach. Examiners in some regions have started to pick up on this security hole, and they are encouraging institutions to address this issue.

Another area of concern for institutions is new and emerging threats. Attackers are continually innovating and improving their attack methods, and basic security solutions may not be enough to detect and prevent these advanced attacks. Newer solutions specifically designed to analyze the growing attack techniques have been developed. The use of sandbox technology and machine learning are being tasked to make it more difficult for attackers to be successful. In many instances, these solutions can be imbedded within your perimeter firewall solution. These types of defenses can vastly increase the effectiveness of your security landscape.

Even though your firewall is viewed as a technical security device, it is also the device that grants users access to the internet. The internet has quickly become a business-critical service. When strategizing about upcoming budget aspects, the institution should consider the business risks involved when an internet device causes downtime. There are ways to mitigate internet downtime using high availability solutions. High availability involves having two firewall devices configured in a cluster. If one device fails, the second device seamlessly takes over responsibility so that downtime is avoided.

Additional devices and licensing will also affect the budget. These changes can be small or very large depending on the scope and goals of your strategy. Going forward, have a plan and strategy to deal with the ever-changing security landscape.

Technology

The biggest move in technology over the last half decade has been the move to the cloud. This will continue to be the case in 2019. The cloud offers benefits such as low maintenance, high availability and rapid disaster recovery that can’t be easily or affordably addressed with in-house solutions. The future likely means more servers and business functions moving to the cloud. This likely is where technology spend will move over the next 5 years. Another term for this is Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). There are three likely situations that will lead to this move and determine how your institution makes the transition.

  1. Your institution desperately needs high availability and/or disaster recovery and is willing to incur the cost of moving from a hardware-based solution to a cloud-based solution.
  2. Your institution’s hardware infrastructure is reaching the end of its life and it is time to purchase all new hardware or move in a new direction. This can be a good time to evaluate your current setup and what is best for the future.
  3. Your institution has some regular hardware turnover scheduled for next year and wants to evaluate slowly moving to the cloud. Instead of buying a new server, it may be time to evaluate what the future of your infrastructure will look like and if the cloud is a long-term solution.

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Some vendors pitch the move to IaaS as a cost savings move. There are cost savings involved. No more hardware to buy and maintain; no more electricity to run the devices; no more cooling to keep hardware cool; and the ability to achieve high availability is easier and more efficient. However, the move to IaaS is typically not a cost savings, but a feature advantage. Most institutions will be lucky if they break even with moving to an IaaS model, but they will gain great redundancy, uptime, reliability, and disaster recovery capabilities.

Generic cost estimates are impossible due to the fact that everyone has different infrastructure, needs, wants, etc. But if flexibility and added freedom is something your institution wants or needs, start investigating what IaaS might cost for your institution. This technology has matured greatly over the last few years and continues to evolve, making it viable now and likely the wave of the future.

In moving into 2019, focus on two things. Are my current processes and products adequate? Not have they passed exams this year, but are they mitigating the current risks to the institution? Too often measuring by exams leaves the institution open to a false sense of security and potential exam issues in the future. For compliance, ensure the institution’s processes are thorough, up to date, and adequate to meet the needs of the institution. For technology, consider what the long-term goals of the institution are and start working on a plan to implement these changes. Security is going to need new investments each year for the foreseeable future. The historical solutions for security problems have been successful which has forced criminals to find ways around them. It’s time to realize that the threats have changed, and it is time to address the new threat landscape.

14 Nov 2018
5 Ways Cloud-Based Solutions Improve Disaster Recovery for Banks and Credit Unions

5 Ways Cloud-Based Solutions Improve Disaster Recovery for Banks and Credit Unions

5 Ways Cloud-Based Solutions Improve Disaster Recovery for Banks and Credit UnionsDisaster recovery is a concern for all banks and credit unions, regardless of size and location, but the hard truth is that a number of institutions are not adequately prepared for emergency situations and are unable to quickly recover from a disaster. This goes against FFIEC compliance regulations and can also equal significant revenue losses and reputational damage.

Implementing cloud-based solutions can help solve this issue by significantly speeding up the disaster recovery process and improving operations. In fact, one of the biggest benefits of using cloud-based solutions is its impact on disaster recovery.

5 key ways cloud-based solutions improve disaster recovery:

1. Improved access to data

Cloud-based solutions provide the flexibility of being able to access and restore systems quickly from any location. The cloud provides instant connection to critical data and servers, which prevents compliance and regulations issues and fines, reduces loss of revenue and increases customer or member confidence.

2. Eliminates the need for duplicate data centers and back-up locations

Banks and credit unions using the cloud eliminate the expense of having duplicate data centers and expensive back-up sites. Organizations access the servers remotely to install, run, and maintain applications. In addition, banks and credit unions do not have to worry that their data center or back-up facility will also be hit by the disaster. For many community financial institutions, their branches and offices are often all in the path of the disaster given their geography.

3. Quicker response times

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Using the cloud enables banks and credit unions to respond more quickly to a disaster, sometimes in as little as minutes, rather than hours or days. Cloud-based solutions eliminate the need for time-consuming manual administration and intervention.

4. Reliable and up-to-date backups

Cloud solutions automatically perform back-up functions on a regular basis. This ensures that updates are accurate and that banks and credit unions have the most recent version of documents and data at all times. This helps ensure disaster recovery operations are utilizing the most recent version of all solutions and data.

5. Scalability

Cloud solutions offer a high degree of scalability. As banks and credit unions grow and technology evolves, their systems grow as well. Instead of having to physically implement new servers to handle the growth and implement disaster recovery plans for all new systems, cloud based solutions can easily expand with the organization.

Because disaster recovery from the cloud provides a much more streamlined process, recovery times are much faster; data can be accessed from anywhere; and the time-consuming and error prone process of manually recovering from a disaster is eliminated.

Implementing cloud-based services can be challenging and even a daunting task for some community banks and credit unions. Working with an outsourced service provider, such as Safe Systems, can help with the process while ensuring the systems are compliant and meet all regulator expectations. We built our Managed Cloud Services solution specifically for community banks and credit unions to enable quick recovery from any disaster, as well as ensure your data is safe and secure.

07 Nov 2018
4 Misconceptions about Cloud Security in the Financial Industry

4 Misconceptions About Cloud Security in the Financial Industry

4 Misconceptions about Cloud Security in the Financial Industry

More and more banks and credit unions are either thinking about or already entrusting their IT solutions and data to cloud-based systems. While the allure of having applications and systems hosted on a cloud network is appealing to community banks and credit unions due to the ability to eliminate servers, internal infrastructure, and applications that would typically have to be hosted inside the institution, there are still some concerns with the transition, especially as it relates to security. Many organizations have some misconceptions and struggle with truly understanding the security differences of housing their sensitive data in the cloud vs. keeping it housed on servers and hardware solutions that are located on-premise.

Having sensitive data stored in a virtual environment is certainly different from on-premise resources, so it makes sense that security-related issues and concerns would need to be addressed and considered. It is understandable that you might have some doubts on whether you can really put your trust in something you can’t physically see and control in your own building or financial institution.

So, let’s take a look at some of the common issues and misconceptions about cloud security.

Misconception #1 – The cloud is not secure!

Cloud-based solution providers don’t take security lightly. In fact, the global cloud security market is predicted to reach $12.64 billion by 2024—up from $1.41 billion in 2016, according to Hexa Research. According to the report, the growth is driven by the increasing use of cloud services for data storage, and the rising sophistication of cyber attacks.

Misconception #2 – Once I move my data to the cloud, its security is not my responsibility

One of the main security-related issues when it comes to the cloud is determining who is actually responsible for data security. Cloud security is typically expected to be a shared responsibility. Just because a bank or credit union utilizes cloud-based solutions doesn’t mean they aren’t responsible for monitoring the security of the solutions, ensuring the data is safe and meeting compliance and regulation requirements. IT professionals and cloud vendors should share cloud security duties.

Misconception #3 – My data can be lost in the cloud

Cloud-based solutions excel in one critical security area and that is information resiliency. Utilizing the cloud will prevent the loss of data while also reducing the likelihood that it will be susceptible to corruption. Cloud-based solutions can recover quickly and continue operating even when there has been an equipment failure, power outage, natural disaster or other disruption, providing a bank or credit union continuous access to data and vital information.

Misconception #4 – Anyone can access my data

The cloud actually reduces the surface area of possible penetration attacks because the entry points into the cloud are very well defined and are locked down with multi-factor authentication and other mature and trusted security tools and processes. While physical security is no longer a worry, banks and credit unions will still need to manage user work stations, connections to applications, and switches and routers, to name a few. In addition, cloud-based solutions provide users with detailed reports of all activity– who has logged in, who accesses certain information, etc., which provides the ability to audit unusual or potentially harmful actions on the network.

Cloud services offer many benefits for financial institutions, including system standardization, centralization of information, the simplification of IT management and the built-in ability to stay current with technology and hardware updates. Deploying these tools in an on-premise environment and ensuring the entire network is secure enough to combat the growing cyber threats seen today would require not only large investments in infrastructure, but large teams to manage them as well. This can be extremely costly for small to mid-sized banks and credit unions. Ultimately, moving assets to the cloud enables banks and credit union’s IT executives to focus on the key capabilities that support the institution’s unique strategy while having the confidence all assets are secure.