Insurer slashes servers down from 100 to just six

Case study: Markel International uses virtualisation tech to reduce servers

Case study: Markel International uses virtualisation tech to reduce servers

Insurance company Markel International hopes to save £250,000 over the next three years by consolidating its server infrastructure using virtualisation technology.

The company is part way through a project which will see it slim down from 100 servers running its applications to just six eight-processor servers running all its apps - and disaster recovery as well.

Like many companies the insurer found itself buying more and more servers to host new applications for the business, a trend it has managed to reverse since implementing the VMWare ESX Server virtualisation software.

The software allows the company to run many different virtual servers on the same physical servers, reducing management time and investment in new hardware.

"We were buying two to three servers a month on an ongoing basis. That was 14 months ago [when the project started] and we haven't bought any more servers since and we are decommissioning some and recycling them," said Markel International's IT director Steve Fountain.

The company started with a proof of concept, moving its Windows-based development, testing and user acceptance testing environment over to the VMWare ESX environment.

"That was a fantastic achievement because we got rid of lots of servers and the management overhead was reduced. It did exactly what is says on the tin," Fountain told

Following the success of this, the insurance company decided to move its entire infrastructure over.

"What we decided we needed was a single box configuration for development/test/user acceptance testing, a three box configuration of eight-way Intel servers for production, backed with an IBM storage area network, with this configuration being mirrored for disaster recovery purposes by a two-box configuration," Fountain said.

"It was a very smooth process to get the business case signed off. The business case was pretty simple - I've estimated that over the three years that we write down the hardware we will make a £250,000 saving, primarily made up of hardware and software support and disaster recovery savings. That made their eyes light up," he said.

"The capital investment was £600,000 on hardware and software and over three years we estimate savings of £250,000," he said.

Previously Markel International had needed more than 100 servers to provide its development, production and disaster recovery configurations. "Our eventual aim is to run it all on these six boxes. We've still got some way to go but we are 65 to 70 per cent of the way there. It should be completed by the end of next year," Fountain said.

He said the move had little impact on the business: "If we didn't tell the business about it they wouldn't know about it."

The technology also allows the IT department to provide servers faster when they are needed by the business. "Previously it took up to four weeks to have a server ready for a new application. Four weeks to four hours is a significant step. It's a much slicker process," he added.