Lab Management in Retail Banking


Situation - A leading UK Retail bank was looking to improve how it created and managed development environments, and their testing process. They were using Excel Spreadsheets to manage the testing process, and there was no visibility of which test environments were in use, and which resources could be redeployed.

Solution - Microsoft Gold ALM Partner Black Marble, working with Microsoft Gold Systems Management Partner Inframon, introduced a solution using Visual Studio Lab Management, System Center 2012 and Hyper-V to create a manageable solution for the bank.

Benefits - The solution is secure, scalable and easy to manage. The business benefits from more efficient and transparent development processes, as well as allowing for self-service of development environments.

Business needs

The bank was working on the Microsoft Developer Tools stack, and while they were confident around the pure software development side, they felt they were not using it to its full potential. They had identified the a number of issues, including

  • Limited number of development/test environments.
  • Environments often out of date or out of sync.
  • Testing problems e.g. the process is fully manual and not saved in a central repository.
  • Traditionally no automated builds/scripts to do auto rollout for deployments – though this is in the process of being improved.
  • Multiple source code systems.

The bank was at the point of investing about £150,000 on hardware to create a lab environment for development and test, and without governance, they were concerned that the development and test teams were at risk of spinning up multiple instances of environments, saturating the resource capabilities that were there, and risking grinding everything to a standstill. At that point they would either have to purchase more hardware or make arbitrary choices on which environments were needed.

The bank felt there had to be a way to fix the problem, as well as making more of the tools they had (Visual Studio Team Foundation Server (TFS)), and in particular the Lab Management tools. They were interested in putting together a Lab Management Proof of Concept (POC), to see how they could improve their Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) process.

The Team

This part of the bank has a team of about 50 developers. There is a large project going into the parent group currently and it has been largely contracted out to third parties. However, it is the bank’s responsibility to do some of the testing and deployment of the software in house.

This was one of the key driver’s for moving away from the manual process for testing.

Why Black Marble?

Initially, the bank approached Roger Davidson, in the Developer Platform Tools Team, at Microsoft to assist them, and he recommended they bring in a leading expert in Application Lifecycle Management to assist in streamlining their processes.

Black Marble is a Microsoft Partner, the first in the UK and one of the first in the world, to achieve the Gold Level in the Microsoft ALM Competency. Our Engineering Director is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) in Visual Studio (ALM), as well as an ALM Ranger - a globally recognized ALM consultant.

The bank was aware of the reputation of ALM Rangers, and as a result, was keen for Black Marble to be engaged, winning the opportunity in the face of competition from larger, established companies.

The Partnership

As well as an expert in ALM, the bank was also directed by Microsoft towards Inframon - a Partner who specialise in System Center. Inframon is the premier, world-wide System Center Technology specialists delivering management, monitoring and automation solutions from the desktop to the cloud. Like Black Marble, they have an MVP on their staff, and are globally recognised as experts in their field.

Black Marble and Inframon worked together to deliver the POC solution into the bank.


Following an initial workshop, the bank engaged Black Marble and Inframon to carry out a 3 week Proof of Concept (POC).

In order to create a controlled solution, Black Marble created a process using the System Center toolset and via bespoke PowerShell scripts, to perform the actions as if they were occurring in the Lab Centre toolset. Leading Lab Management Consultant at Black Marble, Robert Hancock said “We wanted to make sure the users had very limited user rights permissions in Microsoft Lab Center. Basically they can start and stop machines, maybe snapshot them but they couldn’t create or deploy environments– we implemented a fixed process around that”.

Above and beyond outlining a process that would manage Lab Environments, the bank had never managed to successfully implement a build process that would automatically compile, deploy and execute some tests to an environment with one of their applications. As part of the POC Black Marble used an existing application currently in production at the bank, to prove that it is also achievable.


  • The business has visibility of what is happening in the development team.
  • The development team can prove business need when requesting new resources.
  • The Service Delivery Team can retain control of the management of the environments.
  • Resources are not under-utilized or left dormant.
  • Source code systems consolidated.
  • Governance of the environments.

The Future

The bank is keen to show the parent group as a whole how successful the POC has been, and perhaps influence the longer term direction for software development tools within the group. Their plan is show how much more can be done by Visual Studio TFS compared to IBM tooling.

For Microsoft, it has opened up the opportunity to expand the ALM footprint and earn the right to advise Lloyds on best practice for ALM, with also the possibility of establishing Hyper-V as a real alternative to VMware as well as potential deployment of System Center across their estate.