In extremely diverse business scenarios, application virtualization comes almost as a divine intervention to save companies from manifold IT-infrastructure related problems. This is all the more the case with Fullerton India Credit Company, for which application virtualization came as a boon.
Fullerton, which commenced operations in January 2006, provides a complete range of financial products and solutions to the mass market and low-income population segments. It is a subsidiary of Fullerton Financial Holdings Pte, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the US $100 billion Temasek Holdings, Singapore.
Context for application virtualization
It was in 2007 that the need for application virtualization started manifesting itself prominently at Fulleron. "We started experiencing user satisfaction issues with a fairly inconsistent system response time. It was not easy to predict when the problem would occur, because we had a fairly new business model," says Abhijeet Upponi, the company's vice president for enterprise IT infrastructure.
Fullerton was in the middle of a fair amount of functional change at that time. The application software was also going through a change—and every time there was a certain destabilization that came along with the change. In order to address the issues which users were facing, one option was to increase the bandwidth, but this was not viable due to cost issues. That is when Fullerton started looking at virtualization applications.
On the issue of evaluating application virtualization vendors, Upponi says, "The primary challenge was not to find a vendor for a tried and tested platform. Instead our requirement was to virtualize applications to a platform of our preference." This is why a proof of concept (POC) became a vital deciding point. So Fullerton's IT team decided to first virtualize their critical business applications, which were about eight in number, including iFlex Cube (the loan management system), OmniFlow (the workflow and document management system), and the HR information system. These applications were virtualized on a set of desktops and pilots, and extended to a few branches.
Another challenge was to get users to accept the platform. This—rather than making the right vendor selection—was the primary objective of Fullerton's POC. The organization worked closely with Orient Technologies, which is a Gold partner of Citrix, and provided the system for on-ground implementation of a virtualization application.
When Fullerton started implementation of the Citrix XenApp Presentation Server 4.5, the organization had already set up around 400 branches, and each branch typically had around seven to 10 desktops. The company wanted to set up close to 1,000 branches.
After the POC was done in 20 branches, Fullerton extended the rollout to 400 branches. Overall implementation of the virtualization of applications was completed within three months in the last quarter of 2007.
Fullerton's applications are hosted at their Mumbai data centers—at Andheri, and at the Reliance data center. There are 40-odd servers in the Citrix farm, which caters to about 65 current sessions on each server. These Intel-based blade servers (from HP and Dell) run Windows OS. These servers are connected to an HP EVA 4000 SAN.
So how does the application virtualization implementation work for Fullerton? The organization primarily uses a presentation server — applications are hosted on this server's front end and back end. These are the applications which were earlier deployed on desktops at all Fullerton branches. The Web servers are ported out of Citrix's presentation server. Branches are provided with a link of the Citrix XenApp virtual IP address, to get access to the front-end console. Based on the authorization, a user is given specific applications on his console. One has to go through three sets of authentication to access these applications. The Citrix servers have a concurrency rate of 2,500 with a total user base of around 12,000. Peak usage is around 2,500 at any given moment.
The key point to remember is that when an application is being used without a virtualization layer, almost every screen of the application can be heavy or light depending on how effectively the team has developed that screen. With a virtualization layer, each screen becomes a standard 50-60 KB in size, regardless of the application. This gives consistency over the network and data traffic.
The benefits of application virtualization were immediate in nature. Upponi explains: "The benefits in terms of cost savings with regard to the network were very obvious, because we did not have to upgrade the network. Also, over a period of time, we downgraded the bandwidth. However, what scored really high with us was the user satisfaction." In addition, the application virtualization rollout did not need a large support team.
In a bandwidth-hungry world, it is a happy feeling for IT managers to see less bandwidth utilization. Earlier, the company's branches used to take up around 250 to 512 Kbps bandwidth, whereas today they are at 128 Kbps and (in some places) at even 64 Kbps bandwidth. "I wish we had implemented application virtualization much earlier. It really made sense for us, because we are spread very wide geographically. Otherwise, the answer might have been different," comments Upponi.