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Industry: Banking & Financial Services
Location: Germany
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Barmenia accelerates delivery of innovative services to millions of policyholders

Highlights

  • New Kubernetes clusters deploy roughly 90% faster with SUSE Rancher.
  • Easy management of a growing multi-cluster environment via a central interface.
  • High data security through uniform security policies, role-based access control and segmentation.
  • Shorter time-to-market for innovative services.
  • Updates during operation without downtime for users.
  • More efficient development thanks to self-services and automation.
  • Easier onboarding of new software developers.
  • Future-proof architecture with support for all certified Kubernetes distributions and common cloud platforms.

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Introducing Barmenia

Barmenia is an independent insurance group headquartered in Wuppertal that employs around 4,300 people throughout Germany. The group’s product portfolio ranges from health and life insurance to accident and motor vehicle insurance, as well as liability and property insurance. In the health insurance business segment, Barmenia is now the No. 7 private health insurer in the German market, with a premium volume of around 2.6 billion euros. The group operates according to the principle of being the secure partner on its customers’ side and offering the best solutions. Many digital services round off its product portfolio.

At-a-Glance

The Barmenia insurance group is seeing its business shift increasingly into the digital world every day. To be able to offer policyholders an optimal customer experience across all channels, Barmenia must also transform its application landscape. However, the shift to modern, container-based applications initially presented challenges for the IT team. Barmenia overcame those challenges with Kubernetes and SUSE Rancher, simplifying the development and operation of innovative digital services while meeting high availability and data security requirements.

The journey to containers and Kubernetes

Barmenia uses a complex software landscape to handle its digital business processes and provide comprehensive support for more than 1.8 million insured persons in the area of health insurance alone. A vast proportion of these applications were developed in-house. “With the exception of the policy management system, almost all of our core applications are in-house developments — more than 600 different applications in total,” says Daniel Oberdick, systems engineer and DevOps specialist at Barmenia.

Efficiency and agility, therefore, play an important role in developing and deploying new applications for Barmenia. “To be successful in the future, we need to continuously improve the digital customer experience and make it as easy as possible for our policyholders to communicate with us,” says Oberdick.

Self-service tools such as the online portal, “Meine Barmenia,” and the mobile, “BarmeniaApp,” are constantly being expanded with new functions. Among other things, policyholders can now photograph medical bills and prescriptions with their smartphone, submit them digitally, and then follow up on the processing status in detail online.

To be able to bring innovative services to market as quickly as possible, the company looked at DevOps approaches and container technologies at an early stage. As a first step, they began to rebuild the build environment for software developers based on Jenkins automation server and Docker containers. The idea was to use it to pave the way toward Continuous Delivery and Continuous Integration (CD/CI).

“The concept of container technology excited us from the start,” Oberdick reports. “However, we also saw that solutions like Docker alone are insufficient for operating enterprise applications productively. We couldn’t map aspects like orchestration, monitoring and security with the existing tools — and we initially lacked the expertise and resources to build and maintain Kubernetes clusters.”

Two changes created the opportunity for Barmenia’s IT team to take the next step in transforming their IT. First, the sales department created a whole new set of customer-facing web applications based on Spring Boot, Angular and Node.JS. “These applications were perfect for running in a container environment so they could dynamically adapt and scale,” Oberdick says.

Second, Barmenia’s IT team realized that new solutions could massively reduce container management complexity. “We observed that more and more vendors were addressing the issue and also offering complete solutions that significantly simplify implementing and operating Kubernetes clusters,” says Oberdick. “That’s why we started looking for a solution that could also cover our requirements as a large insurance group in terms of efficiency, availability and security.”

“Ultimately, SUSE Rancher opens up a whole new set of possibilities for us to increase the pace of digital business transformation and provide even better service to our customers. We can bring innovative applications to market faster and significantly reduce setup times for new technologies.”

Why SUSE Rancher?

After looking at several solutions, Barmenia decided to deploy SUSE Rancher. “Our IT partner, SVA System Vertrieb Alexander GmbH, gave us a very impressive demonstration in a lab environment of the added value the platform offers for managing Kubernetes clusters. We were also convinced by the fact that SVA itself had already gained a lot of positive experience in running container environments with SUSE Rancher,” explains Oberdick.

Important to Barmenia, SUSE Rancher offers maximum flexibility as a 100% open source solution. The platform supports all Kubernetes distributions certified by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), as well as all major public cloud offerings (EKS, AKS and GKE). “Initially, it was critical for us to be able to build and run the platform completely on-premises — including an air gap to the outside world. We also wanted to keep all cloud options open for the future,” emphasizes Oberdick.

The Barmenia IT team was very positive about SUSE Rancher’s ease of use. The tool’s intuitive graphical user interface (GUI) enables users to efficiently manage all Kubernetes clusters’ operations from a single pane of glass — from provisioning to monitoring to backup.

SUSE Rancher also met all of Barmenia’s security requirements. The platform simplifies the application of consistent security policies across all clusters and supports role-based access control. Using token-based user authentication with Bearer Token, the IT team ensures that developers can only connect to clusters that have been approved for them.

“A massive added value of SUSE Rancher is that we can granularly separate each business unit,” Oberdick says. “We created a separate project in SUSE Rancher for each business unit. Within these projects, employees can create namespaces on their own and allocate resources to their workloads as needed. This combination of segmentation and self-service makes operations more secure and efficient at the same time — Kubernetes doesn’t come with this out of the box.”

During the design phase, Barmenia had already identified around 60 different software projects that were immediately suitable for switching to the new platform. Together with the specialists from SVA, the project team worked out a possible solution architecture. Right from the start, colleagues from the hardware and network areas joined in to optimally adapt the sizing of the infrastructure to current business requirements.

“Thanks to the straightforward implementation of SUSE Rancher, we were able to get up and running very quickly,” says Oberdick. Just a few weeks after the official order, the team ran the first management and test cluster in Barmenia’s data center. Shortly thereafter, the team migrated its Enterprise CMDB instance to the new platform as its first productive application.

Benefits of the new platform

More efficient development processes and faster onboarding of new professionals

Barmenia had already worked on improving DevOps efficiency in the past and built its own automation framework for this purpose. The goal was to free developers as much as possible from tasks that had nothing to do with actual programming. “Now, with SUSE Rancher, we’re taking it a giant step further by providing our developers with a modern container platform that they can really consume as a service,” Oberdick emphasizes. “They can focus entirely on writing their code and then get it onto the platform with just a few clicks, without having to deal with infrastructure configuration details.”

SUSE Rancher’s automated deployment feature also helps Barmenia make new functions available more quickly — helping gain a competitive edge in the market. At the same time, Oberdick believes the insurance group also benefits from the automated and standardized workflows when onboarding new developers.

“We are already noticing that it has become much easier to bring in new specialists and familiarize them with our CD/CI workflows,” says Oberdick. “We’re also seeing that more and more developers in the market already have a basic understanding of Kubernetes — this also speeds up the learning curve.”

Reduced overhead for cluster and workload operations

Today, Barmenia also achieves significantly greater efficiency when managing and operating its application infrastructure. Since the start of the project, the team has rapidly grown its Kubernetes environment to six clusters. With SUSE Rancher, the operations team can centrally manage all build, test and production clusters inside and outside the DMZ. Many typical operations, such as applying new Kubernetes versions or adjusting configurations, can be triggered with a few clicks and implemented automatically on all clusters.

“Today, we can simply perform all updates during operation without the users noticing anything,” says Oberdick happily. “SUSE Rancher not only helps us save time, but we also don’t have to schedule additional hours in the evenings or on weekends. This also contributes to high team satisfaction.”

With SVA, the IT team has also implemented other measures to minimize manual workloads when running the environment. For example, when replacing individual nodes in a cluster, the team configured the settings in the server load balancers to also change automatically. These and other scripted workflows facilitate adjustments and extensions to the infrastructure.

Greater agility makes it easier to focus on customer needs

“Ultimately, SUSE Rancher opens up a whole new set of possibilities for us to increase the pace of digital business transformation and provide even better service to our customers,” Oberdick concludes. “We can bring innovative applications to market faster and significantly reduce setup times for new technologies.”

Today, the IT team can deploy an additional Kubernetes cluster roughly 90% faster to evaluate or run new software. “In a traditional IT environment, we would spend days, if not weeks, setting up the infrastructure for it, provisioning the virtual machines and installing the software,” Oberdick estimates.

In addition, Barmenia can flexibly scale the performance of individual services in response to increasing demands or temporary load peaks. Using the monitoring capabilities in SUSE Rancher, the team immediately detects when service response times decline and when resource utilization exceeds certain thresholds. “We can then react immediately and allocate more resources to workloads before our customers’ user experience is impacted,” says Oberdick.

What’s next for Barmenia?

Barmenia has only just begun its transformation to a cloud-native application infrastructure. Following the positive experience of the first few months, the team is now migrating more applications to the container platform.

“Kubernetes and SUSE Rancher are making it easier for us to modernize our existing software landscape to meet changing customer expectations of an insurance company,” summarizes Oberdick. “To be faster and more innovative without compromising on security — that’s exactly what we’re achieving with our strategy.”