Cigna Takes Role in Shaping Microsoft Virtual Server

Health insurer sought to take advantage of underutilized computing resources while reducing operating expenses.

When Cigna Corp., one of the largest health insurers in the United States, needed a way to take advantage of underutilized computing resources while reducing operating expenses, it turned to server virtualization—specifically, Microsoft Corp.s Microsoft Virtual Server.

The Philadelphia-based Cigna last year joined Microsofts JDP (Joint Development Program) to pilot-test Microsoft Virtual Server in Cignas testing and development laboratories. The decision to use—and, in fact, help develop—Microsoft Virtual Server will reduce the number of physical servers in Cignas testing and development environment by an estimated 25 percent, said Ben Flock, vice president of application frameworks and virtualization at Cigna, in its Bloomfield, Conn., offices.

Getting a handle on server sprawl will not only reduce operating expenses, Flock said, but will also decrease total cost of ownership by as much as 8 percent.

"I have a clear objective, and that is to look at how I can take a technology to consolidate servers and reduce expenses," Flock said. "We have significant sprawl and a lot of underutilized capacity. Our goal with virtualization is to enhance and improve shared infrastructure capabilities."

Cigna isnt alone in its desire to improve server utilization rates, increase server flexibility and reduce overall server spending through virtualization. Research company Gartner Inc. estimates that 25 percent of Fortune 1000 enterprises will be using partitioning technologies for Windows server deployments by the end of next year. That number is expected to increase to more than 40 percent by the end of 2007.

Cigna offers group life and disability insurance, among other services, to more than 13 million customers. Last year, Cigna implemented a companywide IT initiative designed to increase efficiency and productivity while lowering operating costs. This initiative included a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 deployment in Cignas distributed computing environment of about 3,500 servers.

As Cigna migrated to Windows Server 2003, Flock determined that server virtualization would enable the company to take advantage of underutilized capacity in its testing and development environment. The company began a comparative analysis in the second quarter of last year that examined virtualization products such as GSX Server from VMware Inc. and Microsoft Virtual Server, which was still in development at the time. (Microsoft Virtual Server is expected to become available this summer; for a review of VMwares GSX Server 3.0.)

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