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  • Writer's pictureRoy Urrico

Hurricane Ian Banking Data Worries Cleared by Cloud Support

By Roy Urrico

Hurricane Ian cut a trail of devastation across Florida and South Carolina in late September 2022. Because of its uncertain path, people and businesses prepared by battening down the hatches or vacating vulnerable areas. Tampa, Fla.-based fintech Trellance, which helps credit unions with data management, faced a mandatory evacuation of its offices and redeployment of employees as Ian approached. This would ordinarily be a massive business disruption and infrastructure risk. But, cloud-based technology made a serious situation virtually a non-event.

Trellance Chief Technology Officer Doug Vanderpool, a former global director for Amazon Web Services (AWS), described to Finopotamus how the dependability and security of cloud computing environments protects against major weather events.

Preparing for the Worst

Doug Vanderpool, Trellance.

The Trellance facility is located in what became a mandatory evacuation zone on September 26, 2022. “We closed our office that afternoon, so we finished the Monday workday. If we had a data center in the local area or even worse in our building, that would have been a big problem,” Vanderpool recollected. The CTO pointed out without having cloud services hosting its systems, moving data to some other remote site would require an expensive and time-consuming procedure.

Forced to leave the building, Vanderpool, along with his family, sheltered in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He pointed out the pandemic helped organizations like Trellance respond to these situations where staff and management can work remotely.

Ultimately, Vanderpool recalled, “In Tampa, we were spared. That was not the original forecast. Where things went well for us was all of our systems are a cloud based. If we had not had data centers, it would have been a completely different situation to deal with.” he noted, “On our side, there was not really a lot to do.”

Vanderpool explained Trellance not only protects itself against disasters and weather events by backing up systems, but protects its customers as well. “Certainly, if they were in Fort Myers or Naples (Florida) their facilities would have been impacted. But the credit union customers that used some of our systems would not have been affected.”

Protecting Its and CUs’ Assets

Because Trellance does considerable data management for credit unions in terms of quality and governance, Vanderpool said the company did field a few calls from credit union customers regarding Trellance’s disaster preparations as Hurricane Ian approached Florida’s western coast.

“It is definitely part of our marketing discussions with current and new customers, about how our systems are structured. We talk about how we would handle situations like this. So, to a large extent they are already informed, but most certainly there were some questions and we answered those,” said Vanderpool. “In the end it is just kind of a good message that we can go through these things with relatively no impact to our customers.”

Many of the cloud computing services not only provide on-demand availability of computer system resources, but also data storage and computing power at data centers. It takes the worry out of data access for organizations. “It completely does. That is why I am a huge advocate of cloud computing. This is not a credit union's business to house servers and provide redundant power systems to a building because it has computer systems in it,” Vanderpool explained.

That would also require raised floors, making sure that things are properly cooled and the facility itself is secure. These are all things that companies like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft with Azure and Google with GCP (Google Cloud Platform) platform do. (Trellance uses both Azure and AWS). “That’s their business, making sure their facilities are protected,” said Vanderpool. Sometimes that includes three different power supplies from different power suppliers. “They have massive backup power generation capabilities, (and) have internet connections from several different backbone providers.”

Clouds Clear Up Some Concerns

Vanderpool continued there are things that, on a smaller scale, an organization such as a credit union would want to do if it had its own data center. “It is also very expensive to do these things. When you have a situation like these natural disasters come about, you have got to enact a contingency plan.” He said at most companies’ contingency plans, while highly documented, are tested maybe once a year. “I would say the efficacy of those plans is often questionable.”

Vanderpool told Finopotamus cloud adoption allows credit unions to make strategic preparations for a major weather event or other on-premise threats.

“The main lesson, as a credit union, why would I not wanna look at the cloud? You know, there are things like security that might come up,” he noted. “There is still this notion of losing accessibility to physical servers and so forth. And I can understand this.”

Vanderpool said before working at AWS (in 2016), he was a third-party administrator for an insurance company. “We had our own data center. There was so much cost and concern over that. This was back in 2012, when he suggested to the CEO, “We need to look at getting rid of our data center, moving all this into the cloud.” Vanderpool admitted the cloud was still fairly new. “There were some real reasons that we could not do it at that point.” The reason they could not do it had to do with risks associated with protecting personal data. “Then you could not offload the risk to a third party storing that data. Those things are very commonplace now. Looking at data security, the ability of offloading risk has become less of a concern.”

Vanderpool suggested, “If you're talking to a credit union today, I cannot see any reason that you would want to run any of your own systems, for all the reasons that we talked about: the expense of it, the risk of it, and just it's not their business.”

Focusing on the Business of Banking

The devastation of Hurricane Katrina on Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama in 2005, an ice storm in Kentucky in 2009, and Superstorm Sandy that severely impacted New Jersey and New York in 2012, are among the weather events that forced many financial institutions and fintechs to develop alternate sites to process their data.

Even using an alternative site, Vanderpool noted, is not a credit union’s strong point. “What are you trying to do? A credit union's business is to serve their members.” Vanderpool emphasized certainly those systems are critical to serving their members, but there are risks associated with credit union’s maintaining their own data centers versus moving systems into the cloud.

“Before there was the cloud, the internet was not what it was, and you really needed to have a facility with servers locally, with your local network, so that you could do what you needed to do. Those days are rapidly becoming a thing of the past,” Vanderpool advised. “We are experiencing a bit of the same thing now, where it (computing) is really a commodity and running these things yourselves, whether you are a credit union or a financial institution or anything else, just does not make sense anymore. It is too expensive; it is too hard, there is too much risk. You have these hurricanes that come up, or these natural disasters and changing weather patterns and all that represents risk. All that is unknown. Why put yourself and your customers in the way of that?”


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