Location: United States
Much like training for a marathon, managing an IT infrastructure modernization project follows established best practices. The right coaches, a skilled team, and a strategic plan are crucial. Add to that a pre-determined pace, test runs to vet the front-runner’s approach, and consistent execution. Sometimes things go according to plan, so crossing the finish line in the anticipated time frame is easy. But more often than not, races — and IT projects — face unforeseen challenges.
COVID-19 seriously impacted the race
In early 2020, the Pekin Insurance three-phase IT modernization project was soon to be completed. Its new desktop-as-a-service platform, Citrix DaaS, was in place and, in a short time, remote workers would be empowered to work from anywhere, over any network, using any device. Then, in the home stretch, a significant challenge was thrown into the mix.
According to Pekin Insurance IT manager Greg Wheeler, who manages technology shared services for end user computing, the completion of the IT modernization initiative was in sight when COVID-19 began to dominate the news. The company’s CIO surmised that a government work-from-home mandate was imminent, and that Wheeler’s team would need to immediately address this significant diversion.
“We still had to resolve the network and bandwidth issues from the original project,” Wheeler says. “So this new requirement meant that we would have to run at breakneck speed to win a race against time.”
When COVID-19 hit the U.S., Wheeler's team had already put the majority of its new digital and cloud-ready infrastructure in place. The team had transitioned 1,000 employees, 350 offshore workers, and another 200 contract workers to Citrix DaaS. In total, 1,100 workers had begun working from home while a skeleton crew of some 80 critical business and IT workers remained onsite.
Pinpointing problems faster
Wheeler credits NetScaler and its advanced troubleshooting capabilities for ensuring that Citrix DaaS worked optimally throughout the work-from-home mandate.
“Having end-to-end management visibility and reporting with NetScaler was crucial as we navigated network issues related to people working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Wheeler says. “Our internet service provider, on the other hand, routinely took two to three hours to provide current reports, so theirs were basically worthless.”
Senior engineer Steve Pfeiffer, who is dedicated to managing the company’s Citrix DaaS environment along with NetScaler, said the observability data from NetScaler enabled him to prove that many of the slowness issues encountered by remote workers were due to their own technology rather than to corporate bandwidth bottlenecks.
“Thanks to NetScaler, not only do I now have the data to back up the root causes of many issues, but I can also help users resolve issues that are unrelated to our corporate environment,” Pfeiffer says. “For example, while an employee might have a stable connection, periodic heavy usage from other family members in the household might cause bandwidth issues that negatively impact the employee’s experience.”
A multi-phase project paved the way for success
The significant modernization project that preceded COVID-19 was a three-phase initiative that would ultimately form the foundation for how the future of work would look at Pekin Insurance. The goal was to implement a cloud-based digital platform, starting with investments in NetScaler and Microsoft Azure, and then in Amazon Web Services (AWS). The IT team was looking to drive efficiency with NetScaler as the single management plane for two cloud environments.
Phase one involved temporarily fixing the on-premises data center infrastructure — the gaps, technology, data, and more — until that environment could be replaced. The IT team had determined that the on-premises environment was not sustainable.
Phase two was identifying and migrating high-value applications to public cloud. Key among them was Guidewire, a property and casualty insurance carriers’ industry platform, along with other core mission-critical applications.
Phase three would involve transitioning every application that was deemed not mission critical.
“We use NetScaler to support developers who are working the code and writing the code as well the DevOps teams and anyone managing nuts-and-bolts tasks in the backend,” says Wheeler. “We also have the cloud infrastructure to support the applications that meet employees’ day-to-day business needs and enable them to collaborate.”
“We’re still getting things up and running, but our plan is that workloads will be located where the actual processing will occur,” Wheeler continues. “NetScaler will make application delivery and management easy because it enables us to work with just one management console.”
The entire Citrix DaaS environment is managed by just Pfeiffer and another team member whose time is split between various functions in IT. “The automation capabilities of NetScaler enable us to do more with a very small team,” Wheeler explains. “NetScaler has allowed us to decrease our overhead for resources to maintain the environment.”
“NetScaler gives us high availability when moving our workloads to AWS.”
Keeping the momentum when a back-to-office initiative starts
The race to application modernization will continue for the Pekin Insurance IT team despite the challenges they faced with supporting remote workers during COVID-19 lockdown. The IT team intends to capitalize on the capabilities of the company’s new Citrix DaaS digital environment and to continue modernizing its application infrastructure with public cloud and NetScaler.
Pfeffier explains that he’s added NetScaler software ADCs to his formerly all-hardware ADC fleet to support delivering applications from public cloud because, “NetScaler gives us high availability when moving our workloads to AWS.”
By embracing innovation and modern technologies, the IT team is well on its way to positioning Pekin Insurance for future wins when it comes to optimizing its application delivery infrastructure.