AWS Case Study: Validus
Validus-IVC Ltd., headquartered in Norwich, Norfolk, began offering consultancy and managed services to the United Kingdom's automobile insurance industry in 2007. Gradually, the company has shifted focus to its own proprietary Software as a Service (SaaS) products (primarily vCASE), which helps insurers analyze and manage third-party accident claims. These applications process an average of 2,500 claims per week for 26 different insurance companies—accounting for between 20 and 25 percent of all third-party credit hire claims within the UK, according to Validus. To date, this equates to £700 million in claims and total savings of more than £150 million through identification of inflated or fraudulent claims.
A little over a year ago, Validus decided to expand its business. Although Validus had been satisfied with its existing IT system, the limitations of its current infrastructure were incompatible with the company's long-range plans.
"At that point, our hardware was three years old,” says James Duez, Validus Chief Technology Officer. “We had already virtualized several years ago in preparation to move to the cloud, and the equipment being “end-of-life” made for perfect timing. Moving to the cloud was an easy decision.”
Why Amazon Web Services
Amazon Web Services (AWS) offered Validus a glimpse of what running on the AWS Cloud would look like before implementing it, which proved helpful as the company assessed its cloud solution options. In particular, the AWS Simple Monthly Calculator helped the team understand what resources it would need and how those resources would fit together both technically and financially. Duez adds, “Competitors didn’t offer tools that helped us visualize how our cloud environment would look, how it would work, and how it would help us to handle regulatory and compliance constraints. AWS did, and that was critical to our decision and ultimate success.”
Additionally, Validus needed a cloud provider that could meet their need for security, scalability, and independence. Jason Gregson, Validus Head of Infrastructure and Service, says, "We had our own internal infrastructure team, so we had in-house experience. We didn't want to pay an external provider for an intensive, managed hosted solution.”
Validus spent six months performing load, functional, and penetration testing with Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC). Once the team was confident that they had mitigated their risks of migration, they officially launched their transition to the cloud.
"We moved all of our claim document PDFs to Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), but kept data in-house to make sure we had resilience,” Duez says. “By migrating the PDF files to Amazon S3 first, we reduced the size of the database to something that could be backed up in 20 minutes and moved in an hour.”
Once the data was migrated to AWS, Validus changed their Domain Name System (DNS) records to Amazon Route 53 and rewired their email to come through AWS. The team tested over the weekend and signed off.
Today, Validus operates its entire business infrastructure using AWS, including its original SaaS tool, the vCASE claims system. vCASE uses up to 26 Amazon EC2 instances to scan millions of paper files into PDFs, extract data into fields, and help vCASE act as an advisor to claims handlers as they move from initial accident notification to final settlement.
"Moving to the AWS Cloud was so seamless, the business didn't even realize that they had been migrated,” Duez says.
In addition to Amazon VPC, Amazon S3, and Amazon Route 53, the company’s cloud environment features several other services, including:
- Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2). Most of the Validus infrastructure is Amazon EC2-based for the company’s Windows and Linux servers. The second phase of the team’s migration is to use more native AWS offerings, such as Elastic Load Balancing and AWS Elastic Beanstalk.
- AWS Storage Gateway, which is used to allow the team’s current in-house virtualization implementation to back up data to the cloud.
- Amazon CloudWatch, which is used to complement Validus’ internal monitoring system to gauge performance metrics and alert the team when thresholds have been exceeded or not met.
- AWS CloudFormation, which is used to supplement the company’s DR strategy.
- AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM), used as access control to Amazon S3 buckets.
AWS also helps enable Validus to integrate the third-party technologies it was already using, such as:
- Apache Tomcat
- Google Web Toolkit
- Spring Framework for Java
- Hibernate Framework for Java
- SQL Server Enterprise
For more information, see the Validus architectural diagram below.
Duez and his team also receive support from AWS Support. The team’s applications have to go online to look up vehicle values and license plate data from third-party services, and they needed to understand Amazon VPC routing. Validus had questions about sub-networks, security groups, network address translation, and nodes. "When we’re scratching our heads, the support engineers help us fill in the gaps in internal knowledge,” he says. “It's these types of quirks and little details that we needed to speak to someone about so we could resolve the problem quickly. I can't imagine doing this without AWS Support.”
As an AWS Support customer, Validus also has access to the AWS Trusted Advisor portal, which lets the company run more than 100 configuration checks and receive recommendations for achieving improved performance and savings.
Customers are now able to file claims through the vCASE system and conduct data mining to analyze claims from across the industry. Validus has cut its three-year infrastructure cost projections by 50 percent and immediately lowered capital expenses by £200,000.
“The usage-based payments help us fine-tune everything based on performance,” Duez says.
Since the migration, Validus has added two additional SaaS products and is devoting time to refining its applications within AWS. The company's next step is to implement Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) and Elastic Load Balancing as a means of simplifying its architecture. The team will also evaluate additional services such as Amazon Simple Email Service (Amazon SES) and Amazon Glacier.
Validus accomplished all of this while improving availability, reducing time-to-market, and enhancing the overall user experience of its applications. According to Validus, they have had no downtime since migrating. “Users also report snappier system performance through our service desk,” Duez says. “And as the company grows, it will have the capacity to support providing systems and services to the rest of the insurance claims market.”
Duez is certain that the company’s due diligence will continue to pay off as they expand to a global operation. "We knew AWS was a mature offering, and AWS is the right provider. AWS will support our growth with its flexibility.”
For more information about AWS and business applications, see http://aws.amazon.com/business-applications/.