Aussie insurers learn thinness from NZ arm

Australian insurance company NRMA is trialling Citrix Metaframe after a year's productive use by State Insurance in New Zealand.

Australian insurance company NRMA is trialling Citrix Metaframe after a year’s productive use by State Insurance in New Zealand.

Since last year NRMA has owned the New Zealand company, which is formally called NRMA Insurance NZ but still trades under the State Insurance name.

NRMA is rolling out the Metaframe thin-client software in two of its Sydney branches for a 200-user pilot, says State IT operations manager Sharyn O’Hara. “They’re getting really interested, following our experience.”

Early last year State finished a rollout of Citrix to its three major offices, in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, and 30 smaller offices. There are only a few users who operate with “fat” client PCs.

The most important reason for changing to server-based computing was to improve the speed and reduce the cost of refreshing desktop software, O’Hara says. It was taking two to three months to do a full desktop upgrade throughout the company, meaning State could only manage four refreshes a year.

Users were complaining of poor performance. Logging on to the company server from a small site, using PCAnywhere, could take as long as 15 minutes. Staff were also pointing out that rival companies were taking laptops on the road to customers. This was impractical for State because of slow log-on times.

Under the new regime, two server farms are located in Wellington and Auckland. One server typically caters for about 40 users out of a total PC population of 1400. Log-on time is down to between 30 and 45 seconds and there is no noticeable degradation of performance involved in working from the server. Hardware cost and hardware replacement effort is down, O’Hara says. “We’re using three-and-a-half-year-old PCs like pencils; if one breaks, we just pick up another one.”

Several software refreshes can be done in a month, if needed. The company’s user acceptance testing takes the form of a “mock office”, with a PC running the new software, where employees will be asked to work from time. After an appropriate period of testing and tweaking, the new iteration is made available on one production server, then, if this goes well, spread to the others.

The Metaframe installation was done with the help of gen-i. At one point, says O’Hara, State found itself short-handed on a needed refresh, and the teenage son of one of the gen-i staff, who was on work experience with the company, refreshed 50 PCs unaided.

Within the 12 months of use the company has gained a full return on its investment, O’Hara says.

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