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Cutting Fat Clients with Thin Emulation

Liberty Northwest consolidates and upgrades network with assistance from NetManage.

When regional workers' compensation insurer Liberty Northwest acquired personal auto insurance and workers' comp provider North Pacific insurance on Jan. 1, 2002, the resulting IT infrastructure was a combination of mainframes, AS/400s and multiple emulation platforms to access the systems from the front end.

In addition, IT leaders were charged with consolidating the technology, upgrading to Windows 2000, all while consolidating the two separately located data centers into one. "We had about nine months to get all of this completed," says Eric J. Peterson, manager of IT infrastructure for Liberty Northwest (Portland, OR). Although the timeframe was short, Peterson felt confident that his team could meet the challenge. "Non-technologists usually do not understand what it takes to move a data center. It's not as simple as shutting down a server. The business still goes on.

"After the companies were combined, we had about 1,000 users," Peterson says. "The systems are similar, but they really differed in the host architectures, and there were a variety of emulation packages running." Emulators allow front-end users to access various back-end systems through an interface that resembles the original system.

"After we looked at all of the systems, we realized that emulation would become an issue," Peterson says. "I did not want to have to support all of the emulation technologies." With only nine months available to complete the consolidation, Peterson and his team moved quickly to find a solution that could meet the carrier's emulation needs.

"We had a lot of thick-client technology and support was going to be an issue," Peterson says. Liberty Northwest chose Cupertino, CA-based NetManage's Web-to-Host RUMBA emulator to deploy a browser-based solution to its 1,000 desktops so back-end systems could be accessed by a click of a mouse. Also, the thin-client technology allowed Peterson to update desktop functionality easily, without having to load each desktop with local applications.

"NetManage didn't have any additional functionality over other emulators on the market," Peterson says. "The primary reason we chose NetManage is because it is easier to deploy and configure." For instance, in a systems consolidation there will be many IP address changes for servers, Peterson explains. With NetManage, once an IP address is changed in one location the Web-to-Host technology picks up the new address across all of the systems.

For the implementation of the Web-to-Host technology, Peterson did not have to increase his IT staff, currently at about 35 people. "We brought in some additional help to get all of the desktop operating systems upgraded to 2000. Web-to-Host helped alleviate many of the challenges that we would have faced post-merger in supporting multiple systems and 1,000 desktops," he adds.

So far, Web-to-Host is performing as expected. "Our IT resources are focused and well trained on one host access platform, which keeps our headcount low and service to the business high," Peterson says. "Any time you can increase IT operating efficiencies and reduce costs it just makes good business sense. The executives are happy, and we've received many accolades from them."

No Complaints

Looking back on the implementation, Peterson says things went surprisingly smoothly. "We completed everything in nine-and-a-half months," he says.

The only thing that Peterson would change about the project is the timeframe. "With only nine months for such a large project, you really do not have time to digest everything. In many cases, we were just shooting from the hip."


COMPANY: Liberty Northwest Insurance Corp., Portland, OR, over $2 billion in statutory surplus and related accounts.

LINES OF BUSINESS: Workers' compensation, personal auto insurance.

VENDOR/TECHNOLOGY: NetManage (Cupertino, CA) RUMBA Web-to-Host emulator.

CHALLENGE: Consolidate two data centers and upgrade network in nine months.

Greg MacSweeney is editorial director of InformationWeek Financial Services, whose brands include Wall Street & Technology, Bank Systems & Technology, Advanced Trading, and Insurance & Technology. View Full Bio

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