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Shelter Insurance Employs a Measured Approach in Adopting Linux on zEnterprise 114


Mike Giglio, systems programmer with Shelter Mutual Insurance Co., says migrating from Intel servers to a zEnterprise 114 saved his company from server sprawl. Photography by Kevin Manning

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Customer: Shelter Mutual Insurance Co.
Headquarters: Columbia, Mo.
Business: Insurance and financial services
Challenge: Avoiding another expensive data center remodel
Solution: Taking a step-by-step approach to migrating Linux workloads from Intel servers to a zEnterprise 114
Hardware: IBM zEnterprise 114
Software: DB2 for z/OS, WebSphere Application Server, WebSphere MQ, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for System zS

Ask people why they decide to consolidate one-off servers to a mainframe, and they’re likely to say something like, “Those PC boxes are simply too expensive to maintain. You have to hire people to administer them, and they suck up a lot of juice.”

Shelter Mutual Insurance Co., though, may have had the granddaddy of all reasons. “Our server sprawl was simply out of control, and we were having problems with air flow and rack space,” recalls Mike Giglio, systems programmer with Shelter. “A few years ago, we had to rebuild our entire data center, and it wasn’t cheap. We had to redesign our layout, add new racks, a new ceiling and new floors. We even added new heating and ventilation and power distribution.”

As is often the case when data centers are revamped, even more servers were added—eating into the new, valuable and expensive real estate. To counter this trend, Shelter decided it could move many of its applications to Integrated Facility for Linux* (IFL) processors running on its mainframe, thereby slowing the proliferation rate of the existing Intel* technology-based boxes, if not getting rid of them entirely. As an added bonus, the company’s applications are now running faster on its zEnterprise 114 (z114) platform than they had in the past.

 

Proof of Concept

Based in Columbia, Mo., Shelter is a do-it-all insurance company with a presence in 14 states. It not only offers auto insurance to the tune of some 1.2 million policies, but also homeowners and life insurance, as well as coverage for boats, recreational vehicles and motorcycles.

Beyond that, it has two business divisions, Shelter Reinsurance Co. and Shelter Financial Bank. Shelter Reinsur­ance is an insurance company for insurance companies. For example, if another provider wants to hedge against a big payout in the event of a natural disaster, it can take out a policy with Shelter Reinsurance to insure against any associated losses.

As Giglio explains, “Another insurance company located where we don’t have any policyholders, such as in California, will pay us premiums to insure against unexpected events where it has to pay a large number of policyholders. So if, for example, a reinsured customer has to pay out $5 million, it may cover $3 million, and we’ll take up the other $2 million. That way, it won’t be totally wiped out.”

“Our server sprawl was simply out of control, and we were having problems with air flow and rack space.”
— Mike Giglio, systems programmer, Shelter Mutual Insurance Co.

Shelter Financial Bank, despite its name, doesn’t offer traditional checking and savings accounts. Instead, it offers its policyholders a variety of other financial services, such as CDs, money-market accounts and mortgages. As with its insurance offerings, these are handled by the company’s agents, who help people find ways to manage their finances. “Some of our customers simply feel more comfortable dealing with someone they already have a relationship with and trust,” Giglio adds.

A host of applications support Shelter’s multitude of missions. Many of the applications have been developed with and delivered by IBM WebSphere* solutions. Its online e-commerce solution, for example, is based on the WebSphere Application Server (WAS). Initially developed around 10 years ago, it’s now one of the company’s largest applications, and is used by all of its agents to serve customer accounts. Although still hosted on a cluster of Intel-based servers, it has ties to many of Shelter’s back-end mainframe services, including DB2* for z/OS*.

Other applications run directly on the company’s z114 (which replaced a System z10* server in February). One, an indexing application that tracks both its policyholders and 1,400 or so agents, was ported to Linux on System z* from an Intel box about a year and a half ago. “That was when we were starting to look at Linux on System z a little more seriously,” Giglio says. “And because it was a pretty straightforward application, we chose to go with that one. We wanted to make sure it was successful and that we could make it work. It was a proof of concept, of sorts.”

 

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at jjutsler@provide.net.


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