Server virtualization for recession-proofing at Reliance General Insurance

Reliance General Insurance leverages server virtualization to accrue cost savings and resource optimization in times of economic constraints.

Indian insurance player Reliance General Insurance Company Limited is dealing with recession-hit IT budgets in a different manner. At Reliance General Insurance, the mantra was "invest money to save money" during the recession when it went ahead with its server virtualization project. Reliance General Insurance is a part of the Reliance - Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group.

Prior to the server virtualization implementation, Reliance General Insurance ran its line of business applications and related databases in a discrete environment. The company had more than 100 servers that spanned almost 14 racks in Reliance General Insurance's data center.

In this scenario, Reliance General Insurance faced several challenges, including challenges on the IT infrastructure front as well as for business objectives. "We faced acute IT infrastructure challenges such as data center space constraints, application bottlenecks in terms of response times, and issues faced with hardware scalability. On the business objective front, the insurance industry had gone to recession, and there was much emphasis on cost savings," says Shailesh Puranik, the senior manager of IT for Reliance General Insurance. Thus, Reliance General Insurance decided to opt for server consolidation to achieve performance gains and save costs.

In December 2007, Reliance General Insurance's IT team identified server virtualization as the right solution for its requirements. The company started its evaluation process based on the business requirements. The evaluation process was decided by Puranik, along with four other people in charge of Reliance General Insurance's servers.

According to Puranik, the Reliance General Insurance server virtualization project owes its success to a massive team effort. Naganathan Sriram, the chief technology and operations officer along with Sudip M Banerjee, the vice president and IT head spearheaded the project. Puranik and Hiren Pandya, the manager of IT evaluated and designed the server virtualization solution. Vikas Tendolkar, the assistant manager of IT and Satish Maurya , the senior executive of IT implemented the server virtualization solution. "We conducted research for almost eight months. Tools from several vendors were implemented to determine the exact server utilization. Accordingly, we decided the right candidates for server virtualization," says Puranik.

At that point in time (2007), only VMware had tried and tested solutions when it came to server virtualization products. According to Puranik, VMware proved to be the best option considering robustness and simplicity.

Reliance General Insurance has been able to reduce its hosted data center billing by almost 30%. In addition, server virtualization provides a seamless working environment by reducing downtime.

The VMware solution was implemented by IBM, along with its partner Galaxy Office Automation Private Limited. According to the implementation plan, the first step was to move all stand-alone servers to a virtualized platform. "We decided to handle the implementation phase-wise, so that it does not impact our business. So we put some non-critical servers on VMware, and monitored the response. After seeing this response, we managed to move our first level production servers," says Puranik.

Care was taken to make logical groups out of Reliance General Insurance's existing application and database servers so that users are least affected due to the migration. The server virtualization project took three months, and went live in October 2008 with more than 70 servers running on VMware.

"The transition was very smooth. In fact, none of our user groups came to know that the 100 odd servers had been migrated to a virtualized environment. To top it all, the best part is that we have not faced any support issues to date," says Puranik.

VMware has been deployed on 10 IBM x3850M2 servers (quad processor quad core servers with 64 GB of RAM). These 10 servers are connected to an IBM DS 4800 based storage area network. More than 120 applications run out of these 10 boxes, with a ratio of 12:1 (the number of virtual machines deployed on each machine). These servers reside in Reliance Data Center's facility at Mhape in Navi Mumbai. Reliance General Insurance manages the virtual machines with VMware's VCMS management utility, with a dedicated person to constantly monitor these servers.

Reaping the benefits

Significant benefits have been accrued by Reliance General Insurance with this investment. The IT team can provision a server in hours now, as opposed to the earlier server delivery timeframe of more than four weeks. All IT resources are used optimally, and the company has been able to reduce many server management services.

Reliance General Insurance has been able to reduce its hosted data center billing by almost 30%. In addition, server virtualization provides a seamless working environment to users by reducing downtime issues.

Reliance General Insurance plans to start work on a backup and disaster recovery (DR) infrastructure in the near future. At present, the company uses near-site DR in a high-availability configuration.

Read more on Server virtualisation platforms and management