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A&G relies on Orion high availability for its own ‘insurance’

  • 13 July, 2009 09:54

<p>The innovative financial services group A&amp;G Insurance Services (A&amp;G), whose signature brand is Budget Direct, relies on the ‘insurance’ of high availability technology to keep its critical computer systems running.</p>
<p>Since A&amp;G depends on two call centres for generating practically all sales and revenue, 24x7 operation of the group’s computer systems is critical. Any downtime impacts on income and new customers. What’s more, as a financial services organisation, A&amp;G is obliged by regulatory requirements to protect itself against data loss.</p>
<p>So the group has gone to great lengths to ensure high availability, and a key to its fail-safe strategy is Vision Solutions’ Orion HA solution, implemented and supported by Melbourne-based Mid-Comp International.</p>
<p>“Essentially it’s our insurance policy,” says David Armstrong, General Manager, Technical Infrastructure for A&amp;G. “Orion is certainly the most mature, feature-rich and widely installed solution, particularly in Australia. It is as solid as IBM’s System i on which it runs.”</p>
<p>A&amp;G operates an IBM System i platform, with a primary data centre at head office and a disaster recovery (DR) data centre at an IBM facility 10km distant. Data is replicated between these sites using Orion. The system supports administering thousands of insurance polices every week and over 650 staff across Australia.</p>
<p>Built-in flexibility guards against failure</p>
<p>“We are hugely reliant on our data centres as they represent the hub of our technology,” says David Armstrong. “Our two call centres hang off the data centres with multiple network links, disparate paths and diverse carriers.”</p>
<p>He said A&amp;G has gone to great lengths to ensure there is no single point of failure. A Citrix environment enhances application delivery, while much of the group’s IT infrastructure is virtualised. There is a great deal of built-in flexibility, with different system access tiers and the use of both Windows and Linux operating systems.</p>
<p>A&amp;G’s core business application is DISC, an in-house developed solution originally developed by the group’s UK operation which is now a collaborative effort across the three countries in which the group operates. A&amp;G has a 34-strong team of developers who use IBM’s RPG programming language.</p>
<p>The production server is a System i5 570 with quad processors, about 32GB of RAM and 2TB of data storage capacity. The DR server is a System i5 520 with 16GB of RAM and about 1.6TB of storage.</p>
<p>Although the group does not measure uptime, David Armstrong says no major incidents have impacted on the servers in the four years he has been with A&amp;G. Once, the systems were down for 40 minutes. Problems are usually either network related or application related.</p>
<p>While the IT team have not had to use Orion to role swap in an emergency situation, they run a role-swap each year to test the disaster recovery setup. For a full day, they run the group’s entire business on the DR server.</p>
<p>David said: “It takes about 15 minutes to switch from one server to another, but in a disaster situation it would be much quicker because when we do a planned role swap we take more time to ensure that all the settings are optimised.”</p>
<p>Role swap a valuable exercise</p>
<p>He says the annual role swap is a valuable way of evaluating the DR technology. The IT team also use Vision Solutions’ technology for load balancing between the two servers. For instance the Internet application runs on the DR server and is replicated back to the production system.</p>
<p>“Replicating in both directions gives us the useful ability to use the DR system for more than just disaster recovery.”</p>
<p>David Armstrong has been familiar with Vision Solutions’ technology and Mid-Comp’s capabilities for many years in his former positions with Coca-Cola Amatil and EDS.</p>
<p>He said: “I have a long history of working with Greg Gilmour and the Mid-Comp team, who are highly skilled in this space. They are also creative and very keen to see their customers succeed - they are quite passionate about it. They can be relied on to be practical, use common sense, and don’t promise anything they cannot deliver.</p>
<p>“Mid-Comp Director Denis Vaughan is a real champion who has been active in the iSeries community for many years. His focus is on DR, planned availability and performance. He’s a top guy to talk to and adds a lot of value.”</p>
<p>For the future, David says A&amp;G will continue to leverage HA systems. The group is planning a strategy of running two separate data centres, moving to full DS and with high speed links and an active-active mode rather than active-passive or active-standby. Vision Solutions’ functionality can take the group closer to this.</p>
<p>He says: “There is some capability in the product to automate and as they continue to enhance the solution we will exploit it. Over the past months we have started to develop role swap utilities that allow us to automate more seamlessly within our application environment. It takes just two seconds to role swap. Then we are trying to integrate all the processes in our applications network environment, to make them as seamless as possible. “</p>
<p>About A&amp;G Insurance Services</p>
<p>A&amp;G Insurance Services is an innovative, Queensland-based financial services group whose core product is personal insurance.</p>
<p>The signature brand Budget Direct is a wholly-owned Australian insurance provider and is part of the international Budget Insurance group of companies headquartered in the British Isles. The Budget Insurance group of companies administers more than 3 million policies and $1.5 billion in premium. In Australia, Budget Direct administers over 6,000 insurance policies a week.</p>
<p>About Orion</p>
<p>ORION Solutions™ for IBM i - Delivers maximum protection and continuous availability for critical applications in large and sophisticated enterprise environments. With innovative, best-of-breed features, ORION Solutions offers proven reliability, performance, scalability and flexibility.</p>
<p>Vision Solutions leads the IBM Power Systems market with innovations in availability, recovery, and systems and data management technologies. Their solutions combine with numerous best practices, and the latest IBM technologies.
About Mid-Comp International</p>
<p>Mid-Comp International Pty Ltd ( is Australia’s leading High Availability vendor (for IBM customers), as well as being an Australian developer and supplier of business software solutions that encompass intelligent supply chain, managed availability and IBM systems management.</p>
<p>Recently Elders Ltd chose the firm’s Odyssey intelligent supply chain solution in preference to systems from 100-plus vendors including SAP AG and Lawson Software. Odyssey is believed to be the world’s largest pure Java system. Stockman, Mid-Comp’s scaled down version of Odyssey, is targeted at SME supply chain customers. Both solutions are based on Internet delivered technology.</p>
<p>Mid-Comp enjoys a strategic relationship with IBM, and supplies products and services to a client list that includes dominant Australian commercial enterprises. The company also supplies product to organisations in 26 countries, including many Fortune 500 companies.</p>
<p>For more information</p>
<p>Denis Vaughan
Mid-Comp International Pty Ltd
Phone: (03) 9915 5200

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