For an IT shop accustomed to the user-friendliness of Unix, a move to other platforms posed a challenge.
TIAA investments (New York, a division of TIAA-CREF, $265 billion in assets) had opted for Sun Microsystems workstations and servers running Solaris 15 years ago, and "until about five years ago, every machine we had here was a Sun machine running Unix, including all the desktops," says Harry Perrin, second vice president, systems, TIAA Investments.
Pushed by user preferences to migrate to the Microsoft (Redmond, WA) desktop-in order to be able to use familiar applications, such as Word and Excel- in 1997, TIAA chose Windows NT, which brought a serious burden to IT professionals used to the ease of administration of Unix, according to Perrin. "To look at the NT desktop was a nightmare," he says. "We were Unix guys, used to central administration of desktops for years, suddenly faced with the prospect of having to visit every desktop every time a slight change had to be made."
Refusing to accept administration by "sneaker net," TIAA searched for a tool that could manage its pool of more than 450 desktops. Products from Novell (Provo, UT) and Marimba (Mountain View, CA) were considered, and then, "we stumbled across Waltham, MA-based ON Technology," Perrin says. Having been recently developed, the vendor's ON Command CCM product "was a little raw at the time, but we were prepared to live with the growing pains, because it was potentially going to do a lot for us," he adds.
Unlike most other products where "you had to have a live operating system running on the box before you could install another package, such as Microsoft Office," with CCM "you could configure a machine from scratch from a raw disk," explains Perrin. Installed toward the end of 1997, CCM went through various upgrades. "The product was a little flaky when we first got it but now it is really reliable," Perrin asserts.
CCM has saved TIAA the cost of at least six full-time employees. "And that's not just a one-time cost, because you're forever updating the desktop or delivering patches," notes Chuck Dvorkin, vice president, systems, TIAA.
The solution allows for the central management of desktops in four major locations, plus several secondary locations dispersed around the Northeast. "We have a branch office in Philadelphia, for example, so we just configured a couple of PCs and sent them down, and we administer them through CCM," Perrin relates. "This saves us from being on the phone with them, instructing them what to do, them doing it wrong, and us undoing it, etc."
TIAA now runs more than 500 desktops, and administers a mixture of Sun Solaris and Windows NT and 2000 servers, and plans to migrate almost everything to Linux over the next year, according to Perrin. "It looks like we can duplicate Sun Solaris performance for probably a tenth of the cost using Linux on Intel Santa Clara, CA servers," he observes. To support the move, TIAA is moving to ON Technology's Linux-based iCommand product.
The move will create administrative challenges because "Linux doesn't really scale beyond four CPUs," asserts Dvorkin. "So what you do is, instead of getting one big box, you wind up with a lot of small boxes. The value of the ON Technology solution is that those boxes will look alike, and in fact will have the same versions of software on them, from a central source, in the same manner we're able to manage desktops."
CASE STUDY CLOSEUP
COMPANY: TIAA Investments, a division of TIAA-CREF, $265 billion in assets, New York.
LINES OF BUSINESS: Fixed-income investment products.
VENDOR/TECHNOLOGY: ON Technology Corp.'s (Waltham, MA) ON Command CCM and iCommand multi-platform management solutions.
CHALLENGE: Centrally manage multiple operating platforms.
Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio