“When we looked for opportunities to reduce costs through virtualization, we considered a number of alternative virtualization platforms,” says Vasudeva. “In the end, we chose the System z mainframe due to its history of time-sharing.”
Knowing there were few “best practices” in server virtualization to Linux on System z at the time, Nationwide chose to gradually approach virtualization.
“We started the project in 2005, beginning with a three-month proof of concept,” says Vasudeva. “By June or July of that year, we made the decision to migrate to Linux on System z, and by October, we had our first Linux on System z application in production.”
A dedicated group of 15 to 20 IT staff was focused on the virtualization. “We wanted a dedicated staff because we knew we were migrating to an environment that was very different from what we had been doing,” says Miggo. “This core staff had a composite of skills from both our distributed Linux and our System z environments. We already were a large VM shop, so we assigned two VM guys to the project, and we took four or five Unix specialists, a database administrator, and several others.”
By October 2005, Nationwide had migrated its first virtualized application to a production environment—a key “win” for the project. However, the effort wasn’t without its challenges.
“After the first six months of work, we actually stopped,” says Miggo. “We had been developing processes and procedures for the new environment, and had concluded during this initial effort that there really was nothing out there in the way of best practices that already were established for what we were doing. Recognizing that processes weren’t mature and proven, we didn’t give up—but we decided to move cautiously forward.”
Today, Nationwide has 350 virtual Linux servers running on two System z 990 mainframes. Five hundred instances of Linux on System z run the property and casualty business for Nationwide’s 4,200 agencies, and these applications see more than 100,000 active users per day. There are also Linux on System z-based systems for Nationwide’s human resources outsource clients. The applications access an HP database and process client employee vacation requests. The worldwide user base for this HR service is more than 400,000 users. Behind it all, core transaction processing for the Nationwide.com business continues to occur in the traditional System z CICS/IMS/DB2 environment.
“The System z is and will remain as the centerpiece of our core business,” says Miggo. “We also have Linux on System z virtualization efforts going on for our newer Webbased applications. … Our push is to add as many new applications to the virtualized side of the environment as possible.”
Slimming Down the Data Center and Accelerating Deployment
Nationwide recognizes that a company of its size will be planning for new data centers in the future—but virtualization has delivered an upfront cost savings with server consolidation that has reduced power consumption and floor space requirements, making its IT environment economically and ecologically “greener.”