With 4.1 million members and a net income of 4.56 billion euros, the Gothaer Group is one of Germany’s major insurance companies. Gothaer provides all insurance services, covering a wide range of risks for private customers, small and medium-sized enterprises and the self-employed. The aim is to create added value for customers and sales partners by providing high-quality consultations.
Gothaer Systems, the Gothaer Group’s central IT service provider, plays a key role in Gothaer’s digital transformation. With around 700 employees, the subsidiary operates the group’s entire IT infrastructure and supports all standard and specialist applications for employees, partners and customers — more than 300 applications in all (Gothaer developed the majority of its specialist applications in-house). Today, over 250 software developers look after these solutions, such as the groupwide CRM system and numerous other applications and web services. Everything is geared toward developing customer-focused applications and services that make business processes faster, easier and more efficient, while providing an optimal user experience.
Gothaer Versicherung is not only intensively engaged in the digitalization of business processes, but also in the transformation to cloud-native applications. The company migrated more than 220 Java applications to Kubernetes clusters. With SUSE Rancher, Gothaer simplifies the management of its extensive environment. This is an important step on the way to the cloud.
The journey to containers
Over the past six years, Gothaer Systems has evolved from a service center to an enabler of digital transformation. The company is on its way to becoming an agile organization and has started introducing agile methods in many places. That way, development and operations are working together, and the collaboration between IT and business departments is increasingly improving, as well.
The gradual transition to an agile organization goes hand in hand with a fundamental technological modernization: “We originally came from an IBM WebSphere world and decided in 2016 to migrate our software landscape to a container-based architecture — with JBoss EAP as middleware and Red Hat OpenShift as the container platform,” explains Andreas Rother, team leader pipeline and container services at Gothaer Systems. “By switching to JBoss, we wanted to accomplish two things: save the relatively high licensing costs for WebSphere; and modernize the entire development line for building a pipeline of continuous integration and continuous delivery — to be able to implement new requirements faster.”
The comprehensive, automated application platform modernization project ran for four years. During this time, Gothaer moved all 220 existing Java applications to Red Hat OpenShift. Key factors for the successful migration were uniform tools, templates and processes, as well as an agile approach. Disruptive factors and obstacles were analyzed and eliminated in three-week sprints for each application. This enabled the team to complete the brownfield migration of the business applications within the planned timeframe.
“The benefits of the new architecture quickly became apparent in day-to-day operations,” Rother emphasizes. “In the past, we would start planning to do major upgrades of our WebSphere environment two years in advance. Today, we can practically carry out a change to a new JBoss version during ongoing operations, thanks to our high level of standardization.
“For the long term, we needed a container platform that supports hybrid scenarios and multi-cloud strategies,” Rother continues. “The OpenShift platform didn’t give us the flexibility to integrate different managed Kubernetes platforms or centrally provision and manage clusters across all environments. So, when an upgrade from OpenShift 3 to OpenShift 4 was due, we reexplored the container management platform market.”
“To accelerate the pace of digital transformation, we need to remove operational complexity and ensure consistent, automated and secure processes for developing and deploying containerized applications. That’s exactly what SUSE Rancher is helping us do today.”
Why SUSE Rancher?
The IT specialists evaluated a whole range of different solutions — from management platforms to Managed Kubernetes Services. In particular, they checked whether these could meet all of the company’s requirements.
In addition to professional enterprise support, Gothaer placed particular emphasis on high security, simple integration and efficient management. It also wanted authentication and access management to be possible via LDAP groups, so that Gothaer Systems could directly connect into the existing build pipeline. It also needed automated installation procedures and easy integration with storage resources.
“In the end, the overall package from SUSE Rancher was able to best meet our requirements,” summarizes Rother. “We were particularly impressed by its efficient multi-cluster management and its integration with all certified Kubernetes distributions and public cloud offerings. We also liked the fact that the solution is based 100% on open source technology.”
Benefits of the new platform
Rapid deployment of the first applications
Once the team selected SUSE Rancher, implementation proceeded quickly. Within three months, the team set up its first productive cluster integrated into the existing environment. Immediately after connecting the build pipeline, development teams were able to use the new container platform and move the first pilot applications to the environment.
“The support from SUSE Consulting was excellent from the start,” reports Rother. “We consistently used agile methods in our collaboration and initially created a rough concept with four phases.” The project partners established an overarching goal for each of these phases and then defined which tasks had to be completed to achieve it. For example, the first phase was completed when the team was able to deploy the first Kubernetes cluster with SUSE Rancher in an automated manner. The adaptive approach ensured that the project partners achieved initial results very quickly. “After just a few months, we were able to run 14 applications productively using the new environment,” says Rother.
Unified management of all clusters — from development to production
Rother sees SUSE Rancher’s greatest value add, compared to OpenShift, through centralized environment management. All Kubernetes clusters — whether it be development, test systems or production clusters — are managed centrally via a single interface. “We achieve very high operational efficiency with this and ensure consistency across all clusters,” he says. “With OpenShift, we previously had to manage each cluster individually. Centralized management would only have been possible with paid add-on products.”
The SUSE Rancher management interface covers all cluster operations, from provisioning and version management to monitoring and fault diagnosis. System administrators can also assign uniform security policies to the various clusters — whether they are running on-premises or on different cloud platforms. Gothaer Systems is thus creating important prerequisites for operating insurance applications with high data protection requirements securely in the cloud for the future.
High user satisfaction right from the start
For the administrators and developers, the transition to the new platform was very smooth. “SUSE Rancher’s intuitive user interface made the switchover really easy for us. We were able to map all workflows without much training, and we received a lot of positive feedback from our employees right from the start,” says Rother.
To support the change process, the project team involved the DevOps teams at an early stage, provided information about the new container platform via blog articles and the internal wiki, and held several workshops for the individual teams. This enabled individual questions to be clarified quickly. They also left it up to the teams to decide at what point they wanted to migrate their applications.
“We are currently seeing that the migration to the new clusters is proceeding rapidly,” says Rother. “This is certainly due to the fact that, from the developers’ point of view, not that much is changing. What matters most to them is that the platform runs very stably and interacts smoothly with all the existing components of the development workplace.”
What’s next for Gothaer?
The team wants to complete the migration to SUSE Rancher by the summer of 2022. At that time, support for the OpenShift version currently in use will expire. Based on experience to date, the company is convinced that it will be able to achieve this goal ahead of schedule. The new clusters run very efficiently, thanks to automated processes, and application migration speeds are high.
In parallel, the team continues to investigate Kubernetes-as-a-Service offerings. “By choosing SUSE Rancher, we have gained a lot of flexibility for the future,” concludes Rother. “We can theoretically extend our application infrastructure into the cloud and benefit from maximum scalability and lower costs — without increasing operational complexity.” Rother adds that the company is also more flexible overall when it comes to future solutions: “We can map the complete lifecycle management for the hosted clusters via SUSE Rancher and use our established workflows in any environment,” he says.