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.