UK insurance giant Admiral Group says that its move to all-flash storage has resulted in multiple benefits, including improved business transaction times for customers - including a 98% speed increase when offering best customer rates.
The move is also framed as the basis for a range of operational IT improvements, including reducing backup time by 97% and improving recovery time by 98%. It is also seen by the firm’s Head of Platform Services, Chris Bevan, as enabling the use of real-time analytics and better all-round data protection.
The use of Pure Storage, he says, has also cleared the way for significant data center optimization.
This includes cutting the company’s data center footprint by a factor of four and lowering power consumption and costs, which has partly been accomplished by using 12 all-flash storage arrays that take-up 73% less rack space than previous storage equipment.
That is seen as a key internal win for Admiral Group IT, as the company has committed to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2040 - with slashing data center power and cooling costs by 74%, and reducing power consumption by 56%, seen as a significant step in that direction.
Finally, the use of this kind of storage is seen as a major contributor to building the foundation for a new digital version of the organization: ‘Admiral 2.0.’
The Admiral Group was founded in 1993 as a car insurance specialist, but the Cardiff-based company has since branched out into a wide range of insurance products, including multicover and travel. It also has over 1 million home insurance customers.
Explaining the pivot to its use of all-flash storage, Bevan says that the firm’s rapid growth since the early ‘90s has increasingly led to a need to improve the Group’s ability to better handle and back up large amounts of financial services data.
Bevan leads the Group’s 90-strong Platform Services department, which was set up two years ago to enable the firm to focus on everything ‘infrastructure’ across the 10,000-employee, international operation. He says:
Cloud-based infrastructure is a growing area of focus for Admiral as we deliver Admiral 2.0 as part of our overall digital transformation journey.
Bevan explains that data is at “the heart of everything” his company does, forming the basis for pricing for its claims, its loss ratio, and he says that overall profitability is based on accumulated data and what the intel can be gathered from customers and sector peers.
That data needs to be stored and easily accessible for Admiral Group decision makers to act on. For many years, that job was performed by a legacy storage estate, which he sees was not as performant as current solutions in the market.
Another constraint was increasing capacity in terms of the availability of the free space that it had to store data.
Staying ahead of the pack
A move to a new solution was spearheaded by the onboarding of a new member of the Platform Services team, Storage Technical Lead Barrie Dyer, three years ago. He says:
We looked at the tools in the market and decided what would be best for us for was something that was not just leading edge, but bleeding-edge, as there was a clear need to modernize our data systems to drive a better digital customer experience and put data at the center of everything we do, to give our customers the best possible pricing in the market, plus help us maintain a number one position.
Supplier Pure Storage emerged as the best candidate for what Admiral saw as its long-term needs, says Bevan. A particularly attractive option was the company’s support for virtual volume-based provisioning, Dyer adds, which delivers what he sees as essentially automated storage.
That company was leading the way in flash, especially around the speed of response, which would allow use to access, process, and read data a lot quicker. There wasn't really anything comparable, so it was an easy choice.
As stated, since the move to all-flash in 2019 - which has involved not just wholesale replacement of all its older storage kit, but also a redesign of all its backup and recovery and data replication processes - Admiral has seen several benefits.
An important early win for Admiral was a significant speed-up of the brand’s rate change time. This is important, as 98% of the Admiral motor insurance business is done through aggregator sites, so how quickly it can respond to customer searches is a key differentiator. Bevan says:
How quickly you can respond to the customer's requests for quotes is how you get, and stay, in the Top 10 on a site like Go.Compare. So, being able to accelerate that rate change by 98% has obviously been a big help.
A new, quicker, and more granulated way of backing up data has also given Platform Services more recovery options. These include being able to replicate off-site to meet important compliance requirements - functionality that Bevan says was all inbuilt into the technology, and which also removes the need for multiple extra products.
The team also likes what it sees as overall better storage manageability day-to-day - but a major win has been reduced power costs. Bevan says:
We are now looking after way less kit, we can do seamless upgrades and non-disruptive firmware updates on the hardware level - we’ve absolutely now gone through many iterations with absolutely no downtime or any sort of issues.
Having that reliability factor and having less to worry about makes quite significant changes to the Group’s infrastructure, without any risks to business. This is a huge part of us being able to move from tactically managing storage to strategically managing business requirements.
That strategic management is also a big part of achieving what the Group’s leadership has publicly committed to achieving by 2024 - ‘Admiral 2.0,’ which its CIO has outlined as being a much more digitally diverse company to both customers and internal colleagues. Bevan concludes:
We chose this approach because we didn’t want a short or midterm solution, but technology that would future proof us for at least the next 10 years.