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The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America Saves over $3 Million Using Container-Based Architecture on AWS

2021

Mutual insurance provider Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian) wanted to deliver its growing list of products to customers even faster by going digital. In 2016, Guardian began a company-wide digital transformation to improve innovation, speed to market, and the customer experience. The company chose to migrate its on-premises systems to the cloud using Amazon Web Services (AWS), closing its on-premises data center in 2018. Shortly after beginning its journey to the cloud, the company recognized the benefits of using a container-based solution to reduce costs and improve efficiency.

A key part of Guardian’s container-based architecture is Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (Amazon EKS), which gives users the flexibility to start, run, and scale Kubernetes applications on AWS. Using Amazon EKS, Guardian has achieved significant cost savings, an increase in employee productivity, and the agility to respond to customer demands in near real time. In 2021, 5 years into its digital transformation, Guardian has further modernized its environment and runs 85 percent of its workloads on AWS and is focusing its future development on running new workloads as containers using Amazon EKS.

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Using Amazon EKS, our developers’ lead time to procure infrastructure decreased from 3–4 weeks to under 1 hour.”

Jarret Giancaterino
Second Vice President of Cloud Platform Services,
Guardian Life Insurance Company of America

Migrating to the Cloud to Achieve Scalability

Founded in 1860, Guardian is among the top 250 companies of the 2021 Fortune 500 and one of the largest mutual insurance companies in the world. The company provides life, disability, dental, and other benefits to 29 million customers, who can purchase insurance individually or through their workplaces. In 2016, Guardian began using AWS for its direct-to-consumer website, GuardianDirect.com, where individuals can research and buy insurance products online without an agent. To accommodate fluctuating traffic volume on the website and meet customer demand, Guardian needed a computing infrastructure that would offer dynamic scaling. “We didn’t have the ability to scale up and down in real time based on customer demand within our on-premises data center,” says Jarret Giancaterino, second vice president of cloud platform services at Guardian. “That’s what pushed us to explore AWS and its automatic scaling solutions.”

Guardian first migrated its computing infrastructure to Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), which provides secure, resizable compute capacity in the cloud. The success of using Amazon EC2 for the website prompted Guardian to migrate additional applications to the cloud and explore how it might use other AWS services to accelerate its digital transformation. 

Increasing Agility and Staff Productivity Using Amazon EKS

In Guardian’s efforts to adopt a cloud-first approach to building applications, the company began using container-based workloads to achieve elasticity, optimize cost savings, and decrease time to market. The company built an internal service called Launchpad, which its developers use to spin up infrastructure. The architecture for Launchpad includes Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS), a fully managed container orchestration service that helps users deploy, manage, and scale containerized applications. As of July 2021, 123 of the company’s microservices were built using Launchpad, saving the company $400,000 per year.

As Guardian started to increase its container capabilities, it expanded to Amazon EKS because of the integration flexibility. Today, Guardian’s core systems for its group benefits and individual markets applications run using Amazon EKS, and new workloads are run as containers on Amazon EKS. Instead of its teams spending time building and maintaining an on-premises infrastructure, they can now react quickly to customer feedback. Previously, when customers sent requests to fix technical issues, each request would be added to a queue and backlogged for weeks or months. “Using Amazon EKS, our teams can address technical requests in near real time,” says Giancaterino. “They can start building fixes without engaging other teams.” Guardian has also reduced outages by 30 percent. “We pay penalties to our customers when we have an outage, so we have realized positive financial ramifications from that stability,” says Giancaterino.

In addition, Guardian has seen an increase in staff productivity and has enhanced its teams’ cloud skill sets. Developers can go directly to Launchpad to provision infrastructure for development projects without involving the infrastructure team, significantly reducing time to market for new applications. “Using Amazon EKS, our developers’ lead time to procure infrastructure decreased from 3–4 weeks to under 1 hour,” says Giancaterino.

Through the scalability Guardian has achieved using AWS services, the company has saved $3 million on computing costs over the past 18 months. “All unused workloads shut down at 6:00 p.m. every day,” says Giancaterino. “Once they’re down, we’re not paying for them. The cost savings has been a sizable benefit for us.” Additionally, Guardian has achieved a more secure environment through the use of AWS services such as Amazon GuardDuty, a threat detection service that continuously monitors for malicious activity and unauthorized behavior. “At Guardian, security is embedded in everything we do,” says Giancaterino. “Using AWS, we can build in controls at every stage of development and bring new technology to market quickly without compromising security.” 

Achieving Greater Cost Savings and Innovation on AWS

To further modernize its large legacy environment, Guardian will continue migrating its Amazon ECS workloads over to Amazon EKS. “There’s a lot of appetite to run even more of our Kubernetes workloads on Amazon EKS,” says Giancaterino. “We know there will be additional cost savings.” Moreover, Guardian plans to complete a full migration of its applications to AWS. Currently, 85 percent of its 450 applications run on AWS, and the company aims to migrate the remaining 15 percent by the end of 2024. Guardian is also exploring the possibility of using AWS Fargate, a serverless compute engine for containers, as a part of its ongoing digital transformation.

“When AWS says it’s customer obsessed, that’s not just lip service,” says Giancaterino. “The AWS team members never say, ‘We don’t work on that’ or ‘We’re not going to help you.’ They bring the right resources to the table, even if the issue isn’t in the AWS environment. They’re always there for us.”


About Guardian Life

Founded in 1860, Guardian Life Insurance Company of America is a Fortune 250 company and one of the largest mutual insurance companies in the world. It has more than 2,700 financial representatives and provides health, life, and wealth insurance to over 29 million customers.

Benefits of AWS

• Saved $3 million on computing costs over 18 months
• Saved $400,000 annually using Amazon EKS
• Replaced core legacy systems for group benefits and individual markets applications
• Decreased lead time to procure infrastructure from 3–4 weeks to under 1 hour
• Improved response time to customer requests from weeks or months to near real time
• Reduced outages by 30% 
• Improved security


AWS Services Used

Amazon EKS

Amazon EKS is a managed service and certified Kubernetes conformant to run Kubernetes on AWS and on-premises.

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Amazon ECS

Amazon ECS is a fully managed container orchestration service.

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Amazon EC2

Amazon EC2 provides secure, resizable compute capacity in the cloud.

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AWS Fargate

AWS Fargate is a serverless, pay-as-you-go compute engine.

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