Amerisure uses virtualization as a strategic technology, not mere cost-cutter

2009 InfoWorld CTO 25 AwardsJack WilsonEnterprise architectAmerisure

Server virtualization and desktop virtualization can squeeze significant capital and operational costs out of an IT budget. But Jack Wilson, enterprise architect at Amerisure, has a tip for IT managers: Don't think of virtualization technologies as tactical cost-cutting measures, but as components of a strategic investment in making the business infrastructure simpler, more reliable, and more in tune with business needs.

This is the approach Wilson took to implementing what he calls "business virtualization" at Amerisure, and it helped the medicine go down easier with both the business executives wary of change and the end-users who were asked to give up their PCs for thin clients. The chief selling point: Employees would no longer need to be chained to their desks to get work done; they could access their systems and data from any location and any Web-enabled device. Thus, virtualization at Amerisure became part of an effort to set Amerisure staff free. They would be able to work at home or any other location they chose, as long as they took care of business.

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By making virtualization part of a strategic business transformation, Wilson was also able to expand the scope of the project to an extent that was more likely to reap substantial cost savings. Otherwise, layers of legacy infrastructure would remain, along with the difficulties and costs of managing them. Another reason -- perhaps the best reason of all -- was to help change the relationship between business and IT. "IT needs to be viewed as business partners, not wizards speaking a strange language," Wilson says. If everyone is in it together, there's a better chance of success.

At Amerisure, Wilson's "business virtualization" worked beyond everyone's wildest dreams. Users lost their PCs, but gained the flexibility to telecommute or work from home when the weather was bad, or their child was sick, or they didn't feel well themselves. With desktop virtualization in place, preparing a plan for the swine flu outbreak was easy. The IT group ended up with one-third as many physical servers to run, only two server platforms to manage, with all applications under central control. And with remote office servers pulled into the central datacenter and no remote PCs to support, Amerisure could cut the cord on its expensive third-party IT support contract.

The hard dollar savings have been huge: $3.5 million out of the 2009 budget alone. "We're just coming up on one of our key milestones, the skipping of what would have normally been a $1.8 million PC refresh," Wilson notes, "because we have nothing to refresh with the thin clients." He expects to skip at least two more of those cycles.

By focusing on the benefits virtualization could bring to the business, Jack Wilson showed that an enterprise architect could be a change agent and that business management could look to IT as a source of innovative thought leadership. In the end, the value that virtualization brought to Amerisure surprised not only company management but even Wilson himself. As Wilson puts it, "In 30 years of being in IT, this is the only solution I've developed whose reality exceeded my expectations."

This story, "Amerisure uses virtualization as a strategic technology, not mere cost-cutter" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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