Conseco Inc. (NYSE:CNO) helps protect millions of Americans against unplanned major expenses with health and life insurance programs and offers annuity products to help people plan for retirement. A Fortune 1000 company, Conseco earns more than $4 billion in annual revenue.
To ensure that its main data center in Carmel, Indiana performs at peak efficiency, Conseco’s IT department has partnered with Logicalis in an ongoing comprehensive virtualization strategy that has accomplished consolidation ratios of 65 virtual machines to one physical host running VMware vSphere 4. Conseco was able to eliminate 20 to 30 physical servers a month during the height of the implementation.
Conseco software engineering manager Jon Adams estimates the high-level of consolidation from virtualization that Conseco has accomplished reduces the need to purchase the equivalent of about $400,000 in new hardware every year. Savings in energy costs alone amount to about $100,000 a year.
“We bet the farm on virtualization,” Adams says. “And it’s paid off beyond our expectations.”
Savings from consolidation represent only the first wave of gains, Adams adds. “The benefits we’ve realized from consolidation could eventually be dwarfed by the benefits from other aspects of virtualization. It’s the net new stuff that the business is demanding from us that is becoming more important because our turn-around times are so fast. Virtualization allows us to respond very quickly to business demands and get processing power on the floor for our customers.”
An ironic hazard of the success of virtualization is that, because it is so easy to deploy servers, the very server sprawl that consolidation curtailed in the physical world, can too often become replicated in the virtual world, and at a characteristically rapid pace. Having successfully reined in physical server sprawl through consolidation, the Conseco IT department had the foresight to set up specific procedures through its IT Deploy process to guard against virtual server sprawl.
“Every customer request that comes into the data center has to be justified,” Adams says. “We assign dollar amounts for specs like the number of CPUs, disk drives, and memory requirements that establishes an IT cost for each request. Then, when budget time comes around, we know exactly what we’ve allocated to each department.”
Centralized management of the virtualized environment allows Adams and his team to maintain optimum performance by tracking the level of consumption of VMware resources.
One capability that virtualization has enabled Conseco to begin reclaiming is disaster recovery (DR). Conseco currently outsources its DR environment to a third party, at considerable expense. Virtualization has made it possible for Conseco to attempt self-assurance DR and apply the resulting savings to business initiatives that serve its customers better.
Virtual Desktop Infrastructure
The next major push is for virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). “Right now we have a lot of remote access using a VPN (virtual private network) connection to a physical PC asset,” Adams says. “That is the absolute wrong way to do this.”
Adams has clearly given a lot of thought to the right way to provide remote access. “Desktop virtualization eliminates the uniqueness of individual desktops, so settings are managed centrally and there is a consistent experience across multiple users. Our ability to impact change in those environments is different, too. There is no need for manual desktop intervention. When I need to upgrade an application to a new version, all I have to do is upgrade it on the server and the next time Mary Jane in accounting logs in, she’s running the latest version. It’s that simple. That really excites me because it’s a logical progression of what we’re doing in the data center.”
Adams says Logicalis has been Conseco’s partner and trusted advisor throughout its ongoing virtualization journey. “They participate in strategic discussions with us and provide all the details and education we need about products from IBM, VMware and other vendors so when our implementation takes off, we have a lot of the to-dos already done. [Logicalis account executive] Bill Parker is my go to guy,” Adams says. “I don’t have to be an expert on my own on the IBM xSeries or on VMware. I can say, ‘Bill, this is what I want to do,’ and he assembles the resources for us and we head down the road.”
“The good thing with Logicalis,” Adams adds, “is they have a lengthy history with Conseco so they know where we’ve been and where we want to go and can tailor solutions for us based on that.”