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Insurance Company Safeguards Business-critical Application with WWT and Microsoft Azure

A multi-region, geo-redundant architecture ensures agents can always access the technology they need to help customers.

Agents of a US Insurance Company rely on one of the company’s sales applications to effectively do their jobs. The web application helps agents quickly quote prices for new customers, illustrate different packages and manage cases.

The company needed to make sure agents could access the business-critical application anytime, anywhere, even in the event of a disaster. They decided it was time to take the application out of its private data center and take advantage of the geo-redundancy of the cloud.

WWT helped the company get the application up and running in Microsoft Azure, as well as advise the company on its cloud consumption and application development along the way.

Architecting disaster recovery in Microsoft Azure

Over the course of six weeks, WWT leveraged the engineering skillsets within its Multicloud Practice to architect and implement a multi-region, geo-redundant application and database hosting platform in Azure.

Geo-redundant application and database hosting platform implemented for customer in Microsoft Azure.

WWT’s Kevin Tinn was one of the cloud architects who worked on the project.

“We always want to work with the customer’s technology stack, in this case Azure,” Tinn said. “One of the reasons we can do this is because we have expertise across all the major cloud providers. Some consultants will come in and try to restart a customer’s tech stack according to what the firm wants rather than what’s best for the customer. This can lead to incredible amounts of training and organizational change that simply isn’t necessary.”

For the architecture and implementation engagement, WWT stood up two instances of the application, one in a primary Azure site and the other in a failover site. F5 load balancers were put in front of both to trigger a failover in the event of a disaster. WWT then spun up platform-as-a-service databases at each site, turned on Azure SQL’s geo-redundancy feature and set up VPN connectivity.

The benefits of the solution are threefold:

  • The sales application has a full disaster recovery plan in place.
  • The architecture enables the company to start deploying applications to Azure, whereas previously they had only been consuming services from Azure.
  • The company can use the architectural paradigm implemented by WWT for future projects, accelerating application development by copying and pasting configuration points.

Right-sizing Azure Consumption for cost savings

While the company engaged WWT to provide disaster recovery around the application, it also benefited from the advisory know-how of WWT’s consulting services.

When the project started, WWT was quick to point out that the company was using some unnecessary features of Azure to host their corporate website. By turning these features off, the company could reduce their monthly Azure spend by about 20 percent.

This is not uncommon, according to Tinn, who says many customers have trouble knowing what services in the Azure catalogue are right for them. This is where right-sizing comes in.

“Often we see developers have run a bit wild with their cloud footprint, for example setting up a virtual machine that’s way too big for the workload being hosted on it,” Tinn said. “We also find that in many cases there are resources that have been stood up in the cloud that are dormant, but the customer is still being charged for them. Right-sizing is critical, and a lot of our customers are engaging us for cost analysis.”

Maturing DevOps and CI/CD

As the company moves to putting applications into Azure, it wanted guidance on how it could further DevOps, particularly how their CI/CD pipeline could be more efficient.

The company was already using Azure DevOps and Octopus Deploy to deploy software on premise, but they needed a workflow that could help them more efficiently deploy to the cloud.

WWT created a sophisticated approval workflow with the following steps:

  1. Check in new code.
  2. Code moves to development environment.
  3. QA resource sends the deployment application to a test environment.
  4. Manual testing is performed as needed.
  5. Development manager okays application going to staging.
  6. Business owner approves the release of software into production.

“One of the biggest benefits of this gated deployment process is that it provides a level of traceability,” Tinn said. “If something breaks, you know exactly at what point that occurred.”

Also, according to Tinn, automated deployments from the business owner result in a soft cost savings as they lessen manual intervention from IT operations.

Conclusion

The US Insurer is now set on a course for success with Azure. On the business side, sales teams are assured always-on access to the application that they rely on the most to help the company differentiate its position in the market.

As for technology outcomes, the company’s IT staff has an Azure architecture built for disaster recovery that can be used for future application development. The company also has a better understanding of the Azure catalogue to avoid over-charge, and, as it looks to put more applications into Azure, they can do so efficiently with a more mature DevOps process.