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RFA’s Multi-Cloud platform offers the best of both worlds

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Richard Fleischman & Associates Inc (RFA) has launched the RFA Multi-Cloud platform to enable RFA clients to more efficiently scale up and scale down their cloud platform requirements in line with their business needs. And, importantly, in full compliance with regulation. 

The new cloud solution builds upon the success of RFA’s private cloud – an infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) offering – which sees RFA partnering with Amazon and Microsoft, giving clients the flexibility to use public cloud services in tandem with private cloud services with the same guaranteed level of performance and security. 

This latest development marks an important stage in the continued adoption of the cloud by fund managers as they look to streamline their IT costs whilst still maintaining the highest level of enterprise-grade operations. Regardless of how many public cloud services clients use, they will, says Mike Asher, CIO at RFA, notice no difference in the level of security as public cloud data is subject to the same cyber protections that RFA uses in its private cloud.    

“When we talk about private cloud infrastructure, it’s one of the more widely adopted infrastructure-as-a-service models within the asset management community because it provides a high degree of security. In the last three years, this has been the most popular model for clients because they are confident in our ability to meet all of the regulatory requirements as a leader in the space,” says Asher, adding:

“Over the last year or two, what we’ve noticed is that some large, established funds have been exploring ways to future-proof their technology by leveraging the public cloud. The idea for RFA Multi-Cloud originated, therefore, not as a cost saving factor for smaller start-ups, but rather to help larger funds look five, seven years ahead.”

Best of both worlds

To be clear, RFA’s established clients are not about to jump wholeheartedly into public cloud adoption. Indeed, there are some applications such as data warehousing that are yet to be optimised for the public cloud. But what the RFA Multi-Cloud platform now offers is the ability for RFA to extend its IaaS (it has 8 data centres across the globe) by leveraging Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, in so doing allowing financial institutions to reduce IT costs and build a more elastic IT infrastructure that optimises their business model. 

As Yohan Kim, Chief Operating Officer at RFA, said when the firm unveiled the Multi-Cloud platform on 31st August 2016: "The release of the Multi-Cloud platform will provide clients at all stages—from start-ups to established, global firms—with the best of both worlds when it comes to the cloud: lowered costs and increased flexibility, while still providing the highest level of security and control." 

A clear path for the future

Both large fund managers and start-ups are embracing the potential of the cloud and understand the benefit to having access to data and applications in an instant, whilst on the move. Asher says that the Multi-Cloud gives larger institutions “a clear transition into the future”. 

“At some point, public cloud adoption will reach critical mass in the alternative asset management space and we see that as the future. As such, the RFA Multi-Cloud offers a clear path to get there, in terms of not only technology but also budget,” says Asher.

For smaller fund managers, they are trying to run leaner and meaner businesses, building a performance track record using the least amount of technology expenditure. Asher says that the public cloud component works well “as we are able to leverage the cost advantages of large-scale resource pooling offered by vendors like Amazon and Microsoft; the model enables substantial storage capacity expansion for a fee that no medium sized service provider can compete with. 

“At the same time, what was missing with the public cloud was a security tier that ensures the cloud solutions being considered were compliant with SEC regulation, UK and European regulation and so on,” explains Asher.

The ability to scale cloud services in line with one’s business needs is an attractive proposition for any financial institution. If a fund manager has operations in Europe and Asia where RFA might not have data centres, RFA will now be able to extend the cloud platform by launching a secure data centre on say AWS, and connect it with the same level of security provided in the RFA private cloud. 

Quality of service

Asher says that one of the key items that RFA addressed before rolling out the Multi-Cloud offering was quality of service in respect to user experience. People don’t think about where the servers are, or what’s running the cloud. All they care about is connectivity and the end user experience. 

As such it was vital that clients experienced no difference in that experience, regardless of whether they were on the private or public cloud. 

“To this day, the reason that public cloud adoption for enterprises is slower than anticipated is because the end user experience – or the performance of connectivity to the public cloud – could not be guaranteed. We have fixed that problem,” says Asher.

“We already had a significant data centre presence in the US and the UK. We have since established private lines to public cloud data centres, which enables RFA to guarantee low-latency, high-speed connectivity. We’ve effectively alleviated the uncertainty that users might experience a degradation in service quality should they connect over a normal internet connection alone. This change allows us to monitor, inspect, and report on all traffic and guarantee performance without the need for additional hardware on the client’s premises.” 

The Multi-Cloud platform extends to iPads, to Android devices, and is completely seamless, regardless of whether the cloud application is running on the RFA private platform, or is running on Amazon or Microsoft in the public domain. 

Multi-layered data encryption

Up until now, the problem with public cloud adoption was the security aspect. But as technology improves so does the ability to encrypt client data. 

“On our cloud we use multiple layers of encryption and operating systems running on Azure or AWS are even encrypted separately. Were something to happen and Amazon wanted to access your information, it would not be possible because we escrow the encryption keys, which are then held either by RFA or the client,” affirms Asher.

Indeed, one of the key features of the RFA private cloud is that it does not build multi-tenanted environments. RFA creates virtual private environments where there is no commingling of data meaning each client is treated as a single tenant. 

“For the public cloud we took the same approach,” confirms Asher. “We felt that clients would refuse to adopt the Multi-Cloud platform unless we could demonstrate that the public cloud is secure, and how we secure it. There are several components that we put in place.

Private RFA connection line

“One is how clients connect to the Multi-Cloud. Connectivity is established through RFA to the public cloud using a point-to-point line that RFA owns and operates. What this means is that you cannot access the Amazon infrastructure, for instance, unless you go through the RFA line. Because of this, we can then monitor and manage traffic security. We have a number of prevention systems running, we have a 24/7 security operations centre, and this allows us to guarantee that network security to the public cloud environment is as robust as possible.”

Data storage security

The second issue is data storage on the public cloud. 

Microsoft, Google and others have all been in situations where they’ve had to disclose information without necessarily being able to notify the end users. 

In this situation, Asher says that RFA encrypts all the information that is stored on the public cloud, in addition to the encryption security provided by the vendor. 

“We felt that it was important to provide an additional layer of security that guarantees for our clients that any data stored on the public cloud is only able to be made accessible by them specifically and no one else,” he says.

Performance levels guaranteed 

The third issue relates to the level of performance. A service level agreement on response times is critical for a hedge fund. If they choose to use the private cloud on a standalone this cannot necessarily be guaranteed given that the mix of end users on the cloud will vary; if a media company is working with huge HD video files, for example, this could compromise response times. However, because of the way that RFA has built the Multi-Cloud, the level of performance is guaranteed. 

“In addition, we provide software-defined WAN acceleration devices, which allow us to cut telecommunication requirements by 50%. These devices are in all our data centres and we have virtual devices running on the public cloud for the client. If telecommunications options are limited in the client’s building, we can simply install one of these devices to ensure that connectivity is no longer a barrier to adopting the cloud,” adds Asher. 

Looking ahead, Asher is confident that public cloud adoption will gain traction as it grows and develops. 

“Going forward, with the compliance and security aspect that RFA can provide, we expect the public cloud will become more widely accepted across the entire manager stack, from those starting up through to those at larger, more established funds,” concludes Asher. 

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