Cloud Native/NFV

Liberty Mutual: Cloud Reins in Costs of 'Exponential' Growth

At Liberty Mutual Insurance, a six-year-old private cloud deployment has kept costs flat while spinning up 33,000 virtual servers to deploy new applications for business.

Liberty Mutual started out with infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) looking to cut costs and increase agility for developers, Mark Cressey, SVP and general manager, IT hosting services for the Portsmouth, N.H. insurer, tells Light Reading.

"I've kept my costs basically flat while the server volume has grown exponentially over the last three or four years," Cressey says.

And while the insurer gets operational benefits such as automation and increased density from virtual environments, the stated goal was to make its developers more productive, which it is doing.

"Private cloud for us is just a way to drive developer productivity," he says. "We didn't do it as a benefit to the infrastructure." Working with the business to develop capabilities is hard enough, without developers also being tasked to support those capabilities.

Liberty Mutual is the fifth-largest property and casualty insurer in the US, and ranks 73 on the Fortune 100, with $37 billion annual revenue in 2015.

As the insurance firm moved work to digital, it found developers were struggling to keep up. When the company looked into why, it found that developers had to spend weeks getting infrastructure spun up to support applications, which they also had to write, Cressey says.

Liberty Mutual started with a simple private cloud, running two versions of Linux and two of Windows, and a simple portal to request images. "Developers were mistrustful," Cressey says. But the CIO was on board with the project, which grew with new IaaS resources, then branching out into platform-as-a-service (PaaS), using VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW) cloud virtualization platform, as well as vRealize for automation.

Fast forward six years to today, and Liberty Mutual runs 33,000 server endpoints on the private clouds. Some 90% of new server builds are just requested through the cloud portal, with no manual intervention required, Cressey says.

"We run a fully functional production cloud for our business applications," he says. These include claims, underwriting, Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL) ERP, and the company's insurance application.

More recently, Liberty Mutual has added "day two" services, such as opening firewall ports and requesting DNS addresses for URL. "Developers don't just get infrastructure and platform services, they're not waiting for ancillary services to be added to the environment. It's fully bundled, to be used right away," Cressey says.

The entire effort is driven by a desire to improve developer agility by minimizing the hassle of deploying infrastructure services. "That just slows them down. It doesn't provide value to their customers," Cressey said.

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The improved productivity has paid off. The growth to 33,000 server endpoints in the private cloud, from zero six years ago, has been accomplished without adding sysadmins. The cloud optimizes, manages and automates tasks that have been done manually.

In the future, Liberty Mutual is looking into a hybrid cloud, to run applications in international offices including London, Sydney, Calgary, and also in New York, where the company doesn't have local data centers. Public cloud access would allow developers to build code once to deploy to the public cloud for local access.

Hybrid cloud could also absorb demand surges,such as massive enrollment in employment insurance January 1. "If it's a peak period we can scale out to the public cloud and no longer have to allow infrastructure lying fallow on site the rest of the year," Cressey says.

— Mitch Wagner, Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editor, Light Reading Enterprise Cloud

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