With its market expansion continuing and its IT infrastructure aging, Stonetrust Commercial Insurance Company faced a familiar dilemma: keep investing in its own equipment or consider managed hosting. "As our existing virtualized [Microsoft] Windows servers neared their end of life in 2012, we were coming to a crossroads," recalls Wesley Jones, supervisor for IT infrastructure at the workers' compensation insurer based in Baton Rouge, La.
Serendipitously, Stonetrust's co-location partner, Venyu Solutions (Baton Rouge, La.), was beginning to offer managed virtual server hosting to organizations nationwide. "We started co-locating with Venyu after hurricane Gustav in 2008," explains Jones. "Over that time, Venyu's customer service has proven one of the best among our dozens of vendor partners. When we pick up the phone, we always get a representative we know and trust."
In addition to advancing a positive relationship, Stonetrust ($62.5 million in annual written premiums) stood to benefit from Venyu's new distant facility built to U.S. military specifications. "Given the real threat of catastrophic events in our region, modern disaster recovery solutions are a necessity," says Sukhy Dhillon, Stonetrust's CIO. "No matter what, we know Venyu has us covered."
Due to these pluses, as well as the know advantages of managed hosting, Stonetrust decided to stay with Venyu and contracted for the company's cloud-enabled Virtual Server Hosting in mid-2013. Migrating to the platform followed shortly thereafter. "Venyu performed all of the technical aspects of the move," Jones reports. "It occurred smoothly, without any business disruptions, over the course of three weekends."
Still, two systems remain at the insurer's site. These include an IBM (Armonk, N.Y.) AS400 for CSC's (Falls Church, Va.) Point In policy administration platform and the enterprise content management (ECM) server for Hyland's (Westlake, Ohio) OnBase. Each system requires more telecommunications bandwidth than is cost-effective to run from offsite. "We replicate the on-site systems' data to Venyu nightly," Jones says. "Everything else, from our claims system to our [Microsoft] SQL servers, is managed by Venyu."
Most recently, in June 2014, Stonetrust migrated onto VenyuCloud, a managed hosting platform that includes a remote management console. "When we adopted Venyu's original managed hosting solution a self-service option was unavailable," notes Jones. "We relied on Venyu's staff for tasks such as spinning up new virtual servers or troubleshooting issues."
Now, with remote access, Stonetrust has the desired visibility. "While issues occur infrequently, when they do arise it simply takes a little longer to resolve whenever a third party is involved," Jones points out. "Although Venyu has always been exceptionally responsive, having console access allows us to troubleshoot directly. This furthers our efficiency."
And efficiency is essential, says Dhillion. "We grew from $22 million in annual premiums in 2010 to about three times that size today," he explains. "Anything we can do to reduce cycle times is critical. We chose to partner with infrastructure experts to gain the needed efficiencies, enabling us to concentrate on building solutions that drive business profitability."
Additionally, the budget benefits of managed hosting are significant. Stonetrust is saving "about 50%" on infrastructure costs, including equipment and headcount, says Dhillon. "Beyond the hardware, we always have cutting-edge expertise without the costs of investing in additional personnel, training and certifications."
Also, making IT infrastructure an operating expense, rather than a capital cost, is a big plus. "On a statutory basis, large capital purchases negatively impact our surplus," says Dhillon. "With managed services, the impact on our surplus is minimized."
Moving forward, Stonetrust will also be upgrading its Venyu-enabled business continuity strategy. Currently a user of Venyu's RestartIT, a cloud-enabled data backup and recovery solution, Stonetrust will adopt RestartIT+VM, which replicates virtual servers as well as data, later this year.
Regardless, Jones offers definitive advice to others considering managed hosting. "You should move into a Venyu facility, tomorrow," he says. "I can't say enough about them, they're really on the ball."
Anne Rawland Gabriel is a technology writer and marketing communications consultant based in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area. Among other projects, she's a regular contributor to UBM Tech's Bank Systems & Technology, Insurance & Technology and Wall Street & Technology ... View Full Bio