Amerisure's VDI Changes IT Support Requirements

Same old, same old. That was what was on tap for Amerisure Mutual Insurance Co., which like many corporations, followed a traditional path to desktop computing upgrades, revitalizing its PCs every three years or so. Then, wanting a change, the insurer decided to switch to a desktop virtualization system, a move that has saved the company money, time and manpower.

July 20, 2010

4 Min Read
Network Computing logo

Same old, same old. That was what was on tap for Amerisure Mutual Insurance Co., which like many corporations, followed a traditional path to desktop computing upgrades, revitalizing its PCs every three years or so. Then, wanting a change, the insurer decided to switch to a desktop virtualization system, a move that has saved the company money, time and manpower.

In business for 95 years, Amerisure, which has about 800 employees, delivers property and casualty insurance coverage to mid-sized manufacturing, construction and health care companies. The firm, whose products are sold via independent agents, has a central office in Farmington Hills, MI with nine service centers spread out in locations like Atlanta, Charlotte,  Dallas, St. Louis, and Phoenix.

A few years ago, the company became disillusioned with its IT systems. "We were spending 80-90 percent of our time trying to keep things running and only 10-20 percent proactively using our systems to help the company," explained assistant VP and enterprise architect Jack Wilson. The company has a small IT staff, and they were often spending time flying around the company tweaking systems at the various company service centers.

Because this approach seemed inefficient, the insurance company was open to alternatives. Since virtual desktop systems were maturing, the insurer took a closer look at this option. One reason was the increasing power of these systems. At the turn of the millennium, a server would cost about $25,000 and support about 10 workstations. With reductions in hardware pricing and improvements in virtualization techniques, prices dropped to about $10,000 for a server supporting approximately 70 people. After examining the different solutions available, the company decided to try a pilot program with Wyse Technology terminals connected to centralized application servers running Citrix System Inc.'s Presentation server.

As part of the switch, the insurance company conducted an inventory of its applications and found that a hodgepodge of products had sprouted up in its various departments. Because the IT staff was small, the corporation decided to standardize the applications used in different departments. The pilot consisted of several months of testing and a proof of concept. One challenge with desktop virtualization can be making sure that the desktop systems have sufficient processing power to support the applications. After taking that step, Amerisure began its corporate wide deployment of virtual desktop systems, a process that took about a year to complete.One technical shortcoming emerged: whenever users logged on, they were greeted with the Citrix logo rather the insurer's label. That enhancement was recently made to the Citrix system. There was also some pushback from employees. "In general, people do not like change, so some employees voiced concerns about not having a PC on their desk," admitted Wilson. The IT department tried to assuage such concerns and was aided by top management's endorsement of the project.

The change proved beneficial in many ways. Employees are now able to access applications wherever they located; they were no longer are bound to the local machines. "We are now in a better position to offer our employees telecommuting options whenever they want or need to work at home," said Wilson. Making sure that the enterprise's transactions are safe and secure became simpler. "We no longer have users downloading rogue applications onto company computers," Wilson noted. In addition, the insurance firm has better control over its corporate data and can back it up more easily than when it was dispersed.
 
There were manpower savings, as well. The company had half a dozen employees managing its desktops; now they only need one. Calls to the help desk dropped by 80 percent. Personnel from those areas now spend their day working on upgrades and enhancements to corporate applications rather than just making sure that the company's computers function properly. In addition, the company has consolidated its servers and reduced its energy consumption.

A bonus occurred in 2009. The IT department was able to save $2 million because it did not have to go through a typical PC refresh. "With the downturn in the economy, we may have been forced to put some strategic initiatives on hold if we had not moved to desktop virtualization," said Wilson. Since making the change, the firm estimates that it has reduced its IT expenses by about $4 million. So, the same old methods are now gone, and the fresh new approach is proving to be quite beneficial.

Once your agency has completed the business case for deploying a private cloud, how do you actually move ahead with your data center transformation? In this InformationWeek Government Webcast, we'll explore steps to get you there, including a to-do list that will be helpful to anyone involved in the project. By the time you're done following this plan, your data center should be home to more flexible, on-demand IT services. Webcast happens Aug. 11.

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER
Stay informed! Sign up to get expert advice and insight delivered direct to your inbox

You May Also Like


More Insights