Monday, September 10, 2012

Server and Desktop Virtualization Produce Combined Cloud and Mobility Benefits for Israeli Insurance Giant Clal Group

Transcript of a BriefingsDirect podcast on the multiplier effects gained from virtualization in the enterprise.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Download the transcript. Sponsor: VMware.

Dana Gardner: Hi, this is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, and you’re listening to BriefingsDirect.

Today, we present a sponsored podcast discussion on how a large Israeli insurance and financial services group rapidly modernized its IT infrastructure. We’ll hear the story of how Clal Insurance Enterprises Holdings, based in Tel Aviv, both satisfied current requirements and built a better long-term technology architecture.

The rapid adoption of server virtualization that enabled desktop virtualization that has spawned cloud and mobile computing benefits at Clal clearly illustrate the multiplier effect of value and capabilities from such IT transformation efforts. [Disclosure: VMware is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]

We’ll learn how Clal’s internal IT organization, Clalbit Systems, translated that IT innovation and productivity into significant and measurable business benefits for its thousands of users and customers.

Here to fill us in on Clal’s impressive IT infrastructure transformation journey, is Haim Inger, the Chief Technology Officer and Head of Infrastructure Operations and Technologies at Clalbit Systems. Welcome, Haim.

Haim Inger: Nice to meet you.

Gardner: One of the things that’s interesting to me is the speed and depth of how your organization has embraced virtualization. You went to nearly 100 percent server virtualization across mission-critical applications in just a few short years. Why did you need to break the old way of doing things and why did you move so quickly to virtualization?

Inger: The answer is quite simple. When I got the job at Clal Insurance four years ago, everything was physical. We had about 700 servers, and to deploy a new server took us about two months. The old way of doing things couldn't hold on for much longer.

Regulations in the new businesses that we needed to implement required us to do such things as deploy servers as quickly as possible and simplify the entire process for demanding a new server -- to deploying it and giving it the full disaster recovery (DR) solution that the regulations require.

The physical way of doing things just couldn’t supply the answer for those requirements, so we started to look for other solutions. We tested the well-known virtualization solutions that were available, Microsoft and VMware, and after a very short proof of concept (POC), we decided to go with VMware in a very specific way.

We didn’t want to go only on the development side, the laboratory side, and so on. We saw VMware as a solution for our co-applications and for a long-term solution, not just for islands of simple virtual servers, where we decided from day one to start using VMware on SQL servers, the Oracle servers, and SAP servers.

Full speed ahead


I
f they held on there very well, then we could, of course, also virtualize the simpler servers. It took us about four months to virtualize those initial servers, and those were very simple. We just pushed the project ahead full speed and virtualized our entire data center.

Gardner: It seems as if you were concerned about DR first and foremost, but that led you on a path to wider virtualization of the servers. Is that correct?

Inger: Yes, that’s correct.

Gardner: As you’ve gone about this journey, why does it seem to be paying off both on the short term and setting you up for longer term benefits?

Inger: That’s very simple to answer. Today, to provision a new server for my customer takes about 20 minutes. As I said, in the past, in the physical world, it took about two months.

DR was the main reason for going into this project. During a DR test in the old days, we had to shut down our production site, start up all servers on the DR site, and hope that everything worked fine. Whatever didn’t work fine, we tested one year after that initial DR was done.

Using VMware with Site Recovery Manager, I can do an entire DR test without any disruption to the organization.



Using VMware with Site Recovery Manager (SRM), I can do an entire DR test without any disruption to the organization, and I do it every three months. Watching our current DR status, if anything needs to be fixed, it’s fixed immediately. I don’t have to wait an entire year to do another test.

So those simple things are enabling us to give our organization the servers that they need, when they need them, and to do the regression in a much simpler way than we did in the past.

Gardner: Tell us a bit more about Clal. I'd like to learn about the size of your organization and the types of responsibilities you have. You’re supporting several different companies within the Clal Group, isn’t that right?

Inger: Clal is a group that contains a very big insurance company and another company that is doing trading on the Israeli international stock market. We have a pension company and insurance for cars, boats, apartments and so on. We even have two facilities running in United States and one in the UK.

We're about 5,000 employees, and 7,000 insurance brokers, so that’s about 12,000 people using our datacenter. We have about 200 different applications serving those people, those customers of ours, running on about 1,300 servers.

Large undertaking


Gardner: That's obviously a very large undertaking. How do you manage that? Is there a certain way that you’ve moved from physical to virtual, but have been able to manage it without what some people refer to as server sprawl.

Inger: I know exactly what you mean about over populating the environment with more servers than needed, because it’s very easy to provide a server today, as I said, within one hour.

The way we manage that is by using VMware Chargeback. We've implemented this module and we have full visibility of the usage of a server. If someone who requested a server is not using it over a period of three months, we’ll know about it. We’ll contact them, and if they don’t require that server, we’ll just take it back, and the resources of that server will be available once again for us.

That way, we're not providing servers as easy as could be. We're taking back servers that are not used or can even be consolidated into one single server. For example, if someone requested five web servers based on Microsoft IAS and we’re sure that it can be consolidated into just one server because CPU utilization is very low, we’ll take it back.

If an application guy requires that the server have eight virtual CPUs, and we judge it's use on peak time is only two, we’ll take six virtual CPUs back. So the process is managed very closely in order not to give away servers, or even power, to existing servers that are not really needed.

We're taking back servers that are not used or can even be consolidated into one single server.



Gardner: Tell me how you’ve been able to develop what sounds like a private cloud, but a sort of dynamic workload capability. Do you consider what you’ve done a private cloud, or is that something you’re looking to put in?

Inger: We do consider what we've done a private cloud. We're actually looking into ways of going into a hybrid cloud and pushing some of our systems to the public cloud in order to control the hybrid one. But, as I said, we do consider the work we've been doing in the past three years as fully partnering a private cloud.

Gardner: Have there been any hardware benefits when moving to a private cloud, perhaps using x86 hardware and blades? How has that impacted your costs, and have you moved entirely to standardized hardware?

Inger: Of course. When we saw that those 20 servers that we initially did in late 2008 and everything worked okay, we decided to do standards. In one of the standards that was decided upon was if it doesn’t work on VMware it won’t get on our data center. So a lot of applications that run on Itanium microprocessors were migrated into Linux and on top of VMware running on x86,

Saving money

W
e managed to save a lot of money, both in supporting those legacy systems and developing in those legacy systems. They’re all grown. Everything that we have is virtual, 100 percent of the data center. Everything is run on x86 blades, running Windows 2008 or in Linux.

All these systems we have used to run on a mainframe. It’s Micro Focus COBOL running on top of Red Hat Linux latest version, on top of VMware, and x86 blade.

Gardner: Let’s take the discussion more towards the desktop, the virtualization experience you’ve had with servers and supporting such workloads as SQL Server, Oracle, and SAP. This has given you a set of skills and confidence in virtualization that you’ve now taken out, using VMware View, to the desktop. Perhaps you could tell us how far you’ve gone in the virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) direction?

Inger: After finishing the private cloud in our two data centers, the next step within that cloud was desktop. We looked at was how to minimize the amount of trouble we get from using our desktops -- back then it was with Windows XP Desktop -- and how to enable mobility of users, giving them the full desktop experience, whether they’re connecting from their own desktop in the workplace or if they’re using an iPad device, connecting from home, or visiting an insurance broker outside of our offices.

We looked at the couple of technologies that would fit in VMware View. Again, after a short POC, we decided to go ahead with the VMware View. We started the project in January 2012 and right now w're running 600 users. All of them are using VMware View 4.6 which is being upgraded, as we speak, to version of 5.1.

The plan is that by the end of next year, all of our employees could be working on VMware View.



It enables us to give those users an immediate upgrade to a Windows 7 experience, by just installing VMware View, instead of having to upgrade each station of those viewers, and without going to those 600 users who are on Windows 7 right now.

And we're delivering it on every device that they're working on. If they’re at work, at home, outside of their office, their devices, iPad as we said earlier, are getting the same experience. The plan is that by the end of next year, all of our employees could be working on VMware View.

Gardner: With those 600 or more users, have you been able to measure any business benefits -- maybe a cost savings or the agility of being able to work remotely. Have you been able to find a return on investment (ROI) in business terms?

Inger: It’s quite hard to calculate down to the last dollar our ROI data sheet on VDI, because the initial cost is very high. But in the past, in a building where I have 300 people working, I had to have two technicians full time working and giving assurance to those end users.

After going to full VDI in that building I don’t have any technician there at all. When a user has a problem on the physical workstation, we usually remote control the station and try to fix it. Sometimes, you have to format the entire station. When the user has a problem in the VDI station, he can just log out, log in, and within less than a minute, get a completely new work station. A technician doesn’t even have to remote control that problem in order to fix it.

Same experience

The ability to give the user the same experience on each device that he works on is sometimes priceless. When I fly from Israel to the United States and have a wi-fi connection in the plane, I can use an iPad and then work on my office application as if I were in the office. Otherwise, if it’s a 12 hour flight, I'd be 12 hours out of work.

If you take into account the entire ecosystem that you’ve built surrounding VMware View, it’s actually priceless, but it’s very hard to quote exactly how many dollars it save us on a daily basis.

Gardner: Has the experience with the initial 600 now prompted you to move to VDI across more of your thousands of workers? How aggressive do you intend to be with your use of View?

If you take into account the entire ecosystem that you’ve built surrounding VMware View, it’s actually priceless.



Inger: By end of the year 2012, our plan and budget was for 1,000 users. So we're on the way to meet our goal in December this year. For next year, 2013, our goal is to add 2,000. So it will cover almost the entire organization. It leaves something like 500 power users. I’m not sure that VMware View is the best solution for them yet. That will be tested in 2014.

Gardner: It certainly sounds as if you’re able to move rapidly to a mobile tier capability using View and also your cloud capacities. That's something that many other companies are seeing that their users are interested in. Do you have sense that VDI is a stepping stone to supporting this mobile capability as well?

Inger: Of course VDI as a stepping stone is an essential element in implementing a bring your own device (BYOD) policy. That’s something we're doing. We're in the initial steps of this policy mainly with iPad devices, which a lot of employees are bringing to work and would like to bring when they're on site, offsite, or at home. Without VDI, it would be impossible to give them a solution. We have tons of iPads today that are connecting to the office via VDI with a full Window Server experience.

Gardner: I'd like to get your thinking around virtuous adoption. As we started talking about DR, your full virtualization of your server workloads, your being able to go to standardized operating systems and hardware, moving to VDI, then moving to hybrid cloud and also now mobile, it truly sound as if there is a clear relationship between what you’ve done over the years with virtualization and this larger architectural payoff. Maybe you could help me better understand why the whole is perhaps greater than the sum of the parts.

Inger: The whole is greater than sum of the parts, because when I chose VMware as a partner combined with EMC on the storage side and their professional services, I had actually done a lot of the work together with my people.

Life gets easier

L
ife gets easier managing IT as an infrastructure, when you choose all those parts together. An application guy could come to you and say, "I didn’t calculate the workload correctly on the application that's going to be launched tomorrow, and instead of 2 front-end servers I need 15."

Some other person could come to me and say, "I have now five people working offshore, outside of the Israel and I need them to help me with a development task that is urgent. I need to give them access to our development site. What can you do to help me?"

I tell him, "Let’s put in our VDI environment, and they can start working five minutes from now." When you put all of those things together, you actually build an ecosystem that is easier to manage, easier to deploy, and everything is managed from a central view.

Life gets easier managing IT as an infrastructure, when you choose all those parts together.



I know how many servers I have. I know the power consumption of those servers. I know about CPU’s memory, disk I/O and so on. And it even affects the decision-making process of how much more power I'll need on the server side, how many disks I'll need to buy for the upcoming project that I have. It’s much easier decision making process. Back in the physical day, when each server had its own memory, its own CPU, and its own disk, there was much more guessing than deciding upon facts.

Gardner: Very good. I’m afraid we’ll have to leave it there. We’ve been talking about how Clal Insurance Enterprises Holdings, has both satisfied current requirements and built a better long-term technology architecture, all based on virtualization. And we’ve seen how such IT innovation and productivity have translated into significant business benefits for Clal’s users and customers.

I'd like to thank our guest, Haim Inger, the Chief Technology Officer and Head of Infrastructure Operations and Technologies and Clalbit systems. Thank you so much, Haim.

Inger: Thank you very much.

Gardner: This is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions. Thanks to you, our audience, for listening, and come back next time.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Download the transcript. Sponsor: VMware.

Transcript of a BriefingsDirect podcast on the multiplier effects gained from virtualization in the enterprise. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2012. All rights reserved.

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