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QBE Optimizes Virtual Desktop Environment

QBE Insurance optimizes its Citrix virtual desktops with AppSense's Environment Manager solution.

QBE Insurance Group, a Sydney-based general insurance and reinsurance carrier, had been wondering for a while whether full desktop virtualization was a technology worth incorporating into the enterprise. The company already used Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based Citrix's XenApp to distribute applications on demand from a central server, but as QBE continued its aggressive growth strategy through acquisition (most recently, it acquired the U.S. operations of Renaissance Re in November), the carrier added offshore development resources, relates Ben Euers, infrastructure architect for QBE ($14.5 billion in 2009 gross written premium). In order to streamline the offshore IT staff's interactions with its core systems, QBE deployed Citrix's XenDesktop virtualization solution in 2009.

"We had been looking into desktop virtualization for some time," says Euers. "The driver was mainly the requirement to provide an onshore desktop for the offshore developers."

According to Euers, the XenApp server-based computing environment didn't meet the offshore developers' needs. "Some of the applications we wanted to give them had high processor memory requirements," he explains. "[XenApp] works well when you have well-behaved applications, but the stuff the developers work on doesn't fall into that."

QBE's offshore developers currently are working on "a reengineering of our systems and collapsing of our legacy systems," Euers says, adding that the effort touches a strategic set of core platforms, including claims and policy administration. He notes that QBE is working with developers from Accenture, many of whom are based in India, to complete the work.

"Because of the nature of our business being quite acquisitive, we've absorbed a raft of policy systems," Euers says. "The obvious issue with that is the amount of memory required [to run them all]."

To reduce hardware and storage requirements, "We were quite keen on using shared desktop images," he continues. But, "Usually the user profile for one [instance] is destroyed as soon as the user logs off. We didn't want the developers logging on and reconfiguring their environment."

According to Euers, QBE had been using AppSense's (New York) Performance Manager solution for seven years in its Citrix XenApp environment to improve server utilization. To help the carrier manage user profiles in its newly virtualized desktop environment, QBE deployed the vendor's Environment Manager tool along with the Citrix XenDesktop solution.

Environment Manager, Euers says, enables QBE to deploy a fully configured, shared desktop image to users while retaining all of the personalized user configuration settings between unique sessions. This capability helped QBE save approximately five terabytes of storage, the companies claim.

While the phased rollout of AppSense Environment Manager is ongoing, the platform already has shown an ability to boost efficiency; Euers credits the desktop management solution with reducing virtual desktop login times by 50 percent to 60 percent by taking over the login scripts.

Streamlined Upgrades

Meanwhile, QBE hopes to complete the phased rollout of Environment Manager across its entire virtual desktop environment by the end of 2010, Euers reports. Noting that the insurer went through a painful upgrade to Windows Vista, he stresses that the AppSense program will be even more important as the insurer upgrades to XenApp 6, Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2. The lessons QBE learned during the Vista upgrade, along with the provisioning capabilities provided by Environment Manager, should streamline the Windows 7 upgrade, Euers says.

"In migrating operating systems, any downtime on your machines affects customer experience and customer retention," adds Gareth Kitson, senior product marketing manager for AppSense. "QBE wanted to make sure it reduced operating costs and became more agile and flexible."

Nathan Golia is senior editor of Insurance & Technology. He joined the publication in 2010 as associate editor and covers all aspects of the nexus between insurance and information technology, including mobility, distribution, core systems, customer interaction, and risk ... View Full Bio

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