Project Gets Helping Hand

Life insurance company enlists IT consultancy as it seeks to streamline server use, support.

When Warren Jones took over his companys network earlier this year, he was confronted with the knowledge of what wasnt happening. Jones, vice president of IT operations at Guardian Life Insurance Co., was saddled with what his predecessors had discovered. On average, 90 percent of the processing power of the companys servers lay fallow. Even at peak demand, only 25 percent of the CPU power of Guardians Windows NT and Unix servers was being used.

Thus began an effort to consolidate the New York companys IT assets. The goal, said Jones, is to cut the number of servers supporting Guardians applications and databases by 40 percent and to reduce server support staff by 60 percent.

Guardian is not going the consolidation route alone. It has teamed with Greenwich Technology Partners Inc. because of GTPs experience in such consolidation efforts, Guardian officials said. The move mirrors a growing trend among enterprises that are looking to scale back their IT infrastructure but lack the time or skills the project requires.

"[Partnering] gives you the ability to address a stand-alone project, get it done in a specific time frame without being influenced by day-to-day activities," said Jones. "We dont have the spare time to do something like that. And it helps to keep the blinders off."

"It also brings in outside perspective ... a set of independent eyes to do the penetration studies and show you where vulnerabilities exist," said Dave Henninger, an independent consultant working with Guardian, in New York.

GTPs flexibility and willingness to quickly provide expertise was the deciding factor in Guardians selection of consulting partners—after an extensive evaluation that included IBM Global Services, Computer Sciences Corp., Unisys Corp. and others, Guardian officials said.

"GTP was willing to commit to flexibility and submit a fixed-price contract," said Henninger, who added that Guardian was also looking for an IT consulting company with a track record in server consolidation. "GTP was very competitive financially, but it was the agility that sold us."

GTP began the Guardian project with an assessment of the companys IT environment and looked at the impact of moving the insurance companys data center from New York to Bethlehem, Pa.

"As you move applications away from a large majority of users, you need to ensure that bandwidth is adequate," said Bill Ogle, a business development executive with GTP, in New York. "So we did a security and networking assessment. It gave us a lot of the information necessary to do the proper planning for the ultimate consolidation."

GTP found that Guardian had a robust network but recommended that the company add an intrusion detection system. Then, GTP took an inventory of the server environment, said Al Ramos, a client partner for GTP who oversees service delivery.

"Then we look at data analysis ... things like permission, usage patterns, behavior," said Ramos, in New York.

GTP also determined which servers were application, database, and file and print servers and analyzed the data in each. GTP determined an appropriate design for consolidating the servers by looking at both business and technology issues, Ramos said. Some servers were good candidates for consolidation; others were not; and still other servers were out of warranty, which made them too expensive to keep.

In the migration phase, it was crucial to ensure that the transition would be seamless for end users and that any impact on business processes would be minimal.

"We wanted to make sure performance would not degrade," said Ramos.

Although the project is not expected to be finished until mid-2003, it is about 40 percent complete. Because the Guardian environment continues to grow, a number of consolidated servers are finding new homes. "We are finding a lot of our time is now spent on redeployment of hardware," said Ramos.

"You expect your server count will have been reduced, but Guardians business has grown so rapidly that those boxes were used for other applications," said Henninger.

In the process, Guardian has eliminated eight server support positions without impacting service levels, officials said. GTP helped with that effort by introducing better server management tools and processes. By the first quarter of next year, Guardian will have cut the number of server support positions in half.

During the consolidation effort, GTP consultants are operating as part of the Guardian IT team. "They had to integrate with our NT and Unix administrators and security teams to explore the opportunities and develop a plan with our existing staff," said Henninger.

Although the project has an end date with GTP, Guardian will continue to look for new consolidation opportunities on its own. With a more disciplined capacity planning process for distributed servers and improvements in technologies that optimize resources, "youre never done," said Jones.