Avoiding Vendor Lock-In with Agile Cloud
Stack virtualization and cloud portability reduce costs and vendor dependence.
Like many global companies, Zurich Insurance Group Ltd.’s IT environment contains a large application portfolio running on a range of mainframe, x86 and other systems. Over the past few years, technologies such as private and public clouds have begun to reshape the insurance giant’s IT estate — and the way CSC delivers IT services to its client of more than a decade.
Chris Rogers, head of service delivery and integration at Zurich, says the company has changed how it looks at new systems to avoid the potential costs of proprietary solutions.
by Dale Coyner
“Price is important, of course, as well as scalability and automation. But more than that, workload flexibility is very important to me,” Rogers says. “We’re very cautious about things that are heavily black boxed or proprietarily integrated. You could get as locked into a cloud solution as much as a traditional system if you don’t think about that carefully. I want to know if I can realistically start moving in a different direction if I want to.”
Lindi Horton, cloud strategist at CSC, says technology decisions like these have always carried a certain level of risk. “Historically speaking, when choosing a technology vendor, you might get locked into a particular pricing contract because, at the end of the original term, the system is so complex you can’t move off of it fast enough. Or you lose the ability to add new tools or be adaptable to change. That means your systems would stagnate, and you’d begin to fall behind in the market,” she says.
“You could get as locked into a cloud solution as much as a traditional system if you don’t think about that carefully.”
– Chris Rogers, head of service delivery and integration, Zurich Insurance Group Ltd.
More recently, companies have brought those same concerns about overly complex contracts and proprietary systems to cloud decisions. This has led organizations to evaluate providers with new criteria, such as shorter contract duration and vendor contestability. This broker-centric approach allows large companies such as Zurich to concurrently consume infrastructure resources from multiple suppliers.
Horton says that’s an especially important consideration in information-rich industries such as insurance. “Insurance verticals develop a lot of their differentiation by being able to address market needs with new applications and services. Differentiation is not in the infrastructure itself. What we’re trying to do in cloud is support their ability to rapidly innovate and go to market with new products by making infrastructure easy and adaptable,” she says.
Another reason for developing a new approach is the rapid evolution of technology. “Even if we tried to predict what’s going to happen in cloud over the next 5 years, we’d be radically wrong because a new technology will come into the market,” Horton says.
At Zurich, CSC abstracted as much of the underlying hardware as possible with CSC Agility PlatformTM for cloud workload orchestration. The infrastructure runs on the hyperconverged CSC BizCloudTM HC private cloud in a software-defined data center (SDDC) environment — selected for its attractive price point and utility-based characteristics. CSC Agility Platform, which had previously been implemented for an earlier CSC cloud product, was connected to Zurich’s new private cloud in an afternoon, and in a couple of hours began handling loads on the new platform.
According to CSC’s Dan Himmerich, insurance industry strategist and Zurich account general manager, “That abstraction gives us the ability to change cloud providers — even if it’s us — with relative ease.”
Proponents of proprietary solutions argue that they have more integration points and seamlessness across a consolidated stack, from the infrastructure layer of a private cloud to application services. In addition, they offer wraparound for service management, monitoring, backup and antivirus.
However, Horton notes, when the application requirements change, it can be difficult for an organization to take advantage of new features. For example, Amazon Web Services introduces 500 new services per quarter. An orchestration platform such as CSC Agility Platform can integrate these services as seamlessly as if they were part of a vendor’s proprietary solution.
Zurich uses CSC Agility Platform’s application blueprinting feature to enable workloads to move between public, private and hybrid clouds without modifying the applications. “If you want to avoid lock-in in the future, having that abstraction in these application blueprints is important,” Rogers says.
That portability helps accelerate the adoption of new business services. “Everybody is looking for this broad networking of business services and the underlying applications and infrastructure that make it possible,” Himmerich says.
From the client’s point of view, it’s an approach that works. Rogers says that Zurich is now seeing a dramatic improvement in provisioning time for resources that are integrated into the technical and access management environment. But the biggest benefit is the flexibility Zurich now has to handle a wide range of workloads in an automated, standardized and secure way. Today, the organization has a 48-hour turnaround for provisioning new cloud workloads, and that will become even faster when self-service provisioning rolls out.
“I like to see the right workload in the right place at the right price,” Rogers says. “And that’s what Agility Platform delivers.”
Dale Coyner is a writer with CSC’s global content team.