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Why fintech has fallen in love with Kubernetes

Kubernetes is a word some people in fintech will have seen mentioned but few are likely to understand (and even fewer know how to pronounce!). The reality is, however, that far from being a technical side note, it has become a powerhouse of innovation in the financial services sector over the past few years.

Kubernetes is Greek for helmsman or pilot, and that’s a good indication of what it does. It is an open-source system for automating deploying, scaling, and managing applications. It  allows for effective management, deployment and updating of applications. 

Many of the world’s leading fintech startups and traditional players - for example Monzo, HSBC, Starling, Capital One, and ING, are adopters of the technology. First developed by Google in 2014, and subsequently given to the community as an open source initiative, the technology has quickly become the most popular orchestration tool available.

There has been a lot of discussion over the past few years about the need for businesses to go ‘cloud native’ as they try to meet customer demands and bring new services to market more quickly. Put simply, this approach to building and deploying applications helps create cost efficiencies, develop new ideas rapidly, and scale up your service quickly. Kubernetes provides the building blocks and underlying infrastructure to enable this. 

There are several reasons that Kubernetes is becoming the go-to technology for both established financial institutions and cutting edge startups:

Meeting the demands of today’s financial customer

Customer expectations have increased rapidly in the past few years. In a short space of time, it has gone from a world where online banking is a nice addition, to entire banks reliant on just the customer’s mobile phone. 

Each new innovation is fantastic for the customer but it puts pressure on businesses to create and deploy their next idea even more quickly - without compromising on security, or product quality.

Additionally, customer’s experience of the bank no longer revolves around visiting a bank branch. The knock on effect for technology has been that technology needs to scale to support customers banking wherever they are in the world, all the applications and functions they need access to, and ensure you’re ready for any unexpected or expected surges in demand. 

Kubernetes enables that rapid deployment of your ideas, and when you’re ready to roll out to customers, the scalable nature of the technology means that you can support an exponentially growing customer base straight away and handle any peaks in demand as they come along. 

Supporting development and operations 

Development teams have a key role to play in bringing to life the vision of product teams, customer support teams, and of course visionary founders. Kubernetes works by allowing teams to build and deploy ‘microservices’ in containers, building and running your application as a collection of services that are organised around your business services. The containers package software so that they can be released and updated rapidly without taking them offline.

It’s vital that their work isn’t delayed by hold ups, lack of access to technology infrastructure, or out of date systems. Coding is often thought of as a science, but really it’s a very creative process - and the ability to innovate and test out new ideas is crucial for innovation. It can open up a whole world of possibilities. 

Developers being responsible for writing small discrete services deployed on Kubernetes has numerous benefits, they can grasp the full functionality of the service at speed, allowing them to start iterating and providing business value much quicker than maintaining large and usually more complex monolithic applications, and easily deploy independently, automate testing, change the underlying technology without affecting the overall service.

Similarly for operations, monitoring your infrastructure costs and being able to prepare for the unexpected is an essential part of the job. Scalability defines how well your service handles load. It’s key to ensuring you aren’t running under or over resourced applications which in turn, would have a massive impact on how many users you’re able to serve or how much you’re spending in terms of cloud infrastructure costs.

This is where tools such as Kubernetes shine, as it allows you to scale your application to automatically scale the underlying infrastructure, giving you the elasticity you need to scale your application to deal with demand, whilst keeping infrastructure costs to a minimum.

Building a robust basis for your fintech

Trust in fintech comes down to whether your application is secure, robust, and resilient. Downtime and security breaches will have customers abandoning your application before you have a chance to fix the issue. 

The scheduling capabilities of Kubernetes excels in this area, as it gives you the ability to handle instances going down, creating highly available services across data centres and allowing for complex network traffic routing to minimize the effects of targeted attacks (service meshes).

From a security perspective, you need to ensure that time pressures and innovation pressures never compromise security. With a complex technology such as Kubernetes, baking in security from the very beginning, before there’s a chance for things to go wrong, is the optimal approach. There are platforms and solutions which automate this, and allow the developer team to set up clusters with all the security configuration rolled in, so they don’t have to worry about how secure their applications are inside the infrastructure they are deployed to.

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