Small Insurance Company Gets Big Results with VMware Solutions

Apr 15, 2019
Vernon Apperson

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Vernon is a technology writer for VMware, specializing in customer storytelling.

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The insurance company that became Preferred Mutual was founded in 1896, but you could make a case that their origins are rooted in the 18th century. Its founder modeled Preferred Mutual after the first insurance company in the United States, begun by Benjamin Franklin in 1752. Now Preferred Mutual operates in a true 21st-century model, using digital workspaces supported by mobility and virtualization to help their customers in the Northeastern U.S.

Although the company has only 350 employees, Preferred Mutual has experienced its share of big IT headaches. Many of their employees work remotely, which made day-to-day laptop and app management more difficult. As an insurance company, Preferred Mutual takes data security seriously, and in fact, employs several full-time security engineers. They needed solutions that were simple to manage and just worked.

Easier, Better, Faster with Modern Management

The company’s VPN clients only added to the IT department’s workload. The clients were “clunky,” according to Moore, and “bandwidth requirements were pretty high because you’re back-hauling all of the application traffic.”

One of their major changes has been moving to VMware Horizon virtual desktops. “It was very difficult managing all the individual laptops,” said Ben Moore, Lead Systems Engineer at Preferred Mutual. “If one dies, the user is out of work until you get another laptop configured and sent to them. Everybody had their own laptop, and it was configured specifically for them. Files were stored locally, so if someone’s laptop failed, it was a big deal.”

Now, 100 percent of Preferred Mutual employees use virtual desktops. They can use company-provided thin clients or bring their own laptop. Horizon integration with NVIDIA GPUs speeds applications such as video conferencing, regardless of an individual device’s compute power.

If a device is stolen, broken or lost, “There’s no company data on it anyway,” said Moore, because it all resides in the data center. “We ship them a new thin client that’s already pre-configured, and they’re good to go. If they have their own laptop, they just sign in and they’re back in business. It’s been great for the company.” Moore noted that the company no longer needs VPN clients. “Bandwidth requirements are much lower because you’re only carrying that PCoIP traffic across the network.”

Preferred Mutual uses VMware Workspace ONE to manage a bring-your-own-device model for employees’ mobile devices. Working in concert with Horizon, mobile and desktop devices provide the same apps and the same experience across the board, no matter where employees are or which device they’re using. “That’s just made their lives tremendously easier,” said Moore. Without the need for customizations on individual devices, onboarding new employees is easier, he added. “When they walk in the door, all we have to do is teach them how to access the environment.”

VMware App Volumes is another essential part of the company’s end-user computing stack. “Before App Volumes came along, we struggled” with other app virtualization solutions, said Moore. Now the company manages 50 key business apps, everything from Microsoft Office to a mainframe emulation program, with App Volumes. “With App Volumes, it’s much easier to capture the application and tailor it to what it needs to be,” said Moore. “It works great.”

Locking Down Data to Protect the Business

Moore’s department uses two-factor authentication using RSA tokens integrated with the Horizon environment. “If we were deploying that agent to 300 individual laptops, it would have been a nightmare to deploy,” said Moore. “With Horizon, it’s just a couple of check boxes, and you have two-factor authentication.” Security is further heightened with restrictions that prevent unauthorized users from copying files with sensitive data.

Adding to their security footprint, Preferred Mutual uses VMware NSX Data Center to micro-segment their PCI network. “When we had to build out the PCI environment, the cost comparison between building a new physical network segment for PCI versus segmenting using NSX and virtualizing that layer, definitely made the architecture a lot easier to implement,” said Moore. “It took far fewer man hours, far fewer design changes, and fewer physical network changes.”

“Being able to lock down and bring in the micro-segmentation right down to the VM level is definitely helping,” Moore continued. “To do what NSX is able to do in the virtualization layer with equivalent Cisco hardware and configurations, it would just be a nightmare to manage. With NSX we can write custom rules based on machine tags, or VM names, and just have the rules float with the machine as it migrates around. It definitely makes that a much easier prospect.” The company’s ultimate plan is to extend NSX Data Center to their entire environment.

Preferred Mutual, said Moore, is a long-time VMware customer, starting with only a few vSphere servers. “Over the last seven or eight years, our relationship with VMware has really taken off,” said Moore. “The products are easy to deploy, and if you do hit a bump in the road, there’s a great community of people that have probably already hit that same bump and can get you past it pretty quickly. When our company wants to do something new in IT, we always look at VMware first.”

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