Cigna needed to improve its IT provisioning processes to keep up with the innovations of its developers. The company created an entrepreneurial team to experiment with building an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) self-service provisioning capability. Deploying Red Hat® solutions and Red Hat-supported open source projects, Cigna's initial proof of concept was so successful that it immediately spread throughout the IT organization. Today, Cigna's development and infrastructure teams are seamlessly aligned and able to speed business applications to customers while carving out costs from the provisioning process to boost Cigna's bottom line.
- Existing Cigna architecture
To further enable our U.S. growth as well as our international expansion, we need to manage our costs more closely than ever. The combination of Red Hat technologies, the innovations taking place inside our organization, and developments in the healthcare industry are all converging at exactly the right time for us to do that.John DeFeo, vice president of Infrastructure Services, Cigna
Healthcare reform is dramatically changing the healthcare industry. New regulations mean healthcare companies must become more agile.
"On a day-to-day basis, it's all about keeping our customers connected," said John DeFeo, vice president of Infrastructure Services at Cigna. "To support business agility, the IT organization must be agile as well. Our systems and networks have to be available 24x7, whether it's our contact centers, web presence, or mobile portal. We are committed to ensuring that our customers can reach us, gain access to the information they need to interact with their physicians, and maintain their health every minute of every day."
Faster app development needs agile infrastructure
To meet growing business demands and adapt to changing requirements, Cigna's application development teams adopted agile development methodologies. It helped them develop and modify apps more quickly and efficiently, but their infrastructure organization couldn't respond in kind. The faster servers could be prepared with appropriate systems and software, the sooner the new apps could be deployed.
Cigna decided to evolve to an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) model. The goal was to boost IT self-service via truly automated IT infrastructure provisioning.
Need agility? Install a startup in your organization.
Major business and IT transformation projects require organizations to reach a consensus on how to move forward. The more radical the transformation, the more difficult the process. Acknowledging this reality, DeFeo started a "skunkworks" project team in 2011 to work outside the traditional walls of IT. These teams are known for their no-holds-barred approach to research and radical innovation.
"We structured it very much as a startup entity inside Cigna," said DeFeo. "We put together a small team of highly specialized, highly skilled engineers, gave them a little bit of investment capital, set a target for them, and let them run off and innovate. Their mission was to develop a solution to the agility challenges that we've been working to solve."
Start with a blank slate
The team was also given freedom to choose the best technologies for their purposes without worrying about legacy infrastructure. The idea—at first—was to simply come up with a proof of concept for self-service infrastructure provisioning.
The team looked to open source innovations to build the core scaffolding of their prototype solution. Where there were gaps, the team wrote custom code. The proof of concept for the "Cigna On Demand" effort became operational in April 2012, and was piloted with a select group of five developers and testers. However, Cigna On Demand quickly earned a reputation as an invaluable resource because of its ease of use, concise architecture, and robust self-service and fully automated provisioning. As more and more developers clamored for access to Cigna On Demand, the team started work on a second version that could scale to meet the needs of Cigna's large IT community.
Let the community decide
"Cigna On Demand initially started off as just a proof of concept to demonstrate what IaaS capabilities we might be able to provide," said Chris Stetson, cloud orchestration leader, Cigna. "It was very, very interesting to watch it quickly evolve into something that was being used broadly across the enterprise."
"As we started building the second version, we realized that the scope needed to be a lot larger than just offering self-service servers or basic automation. We needed to build a framework for providing automation as a service," said Rob Starr, architecture manager, Cigna.
The cloud that launched a thousand apps
With this expanded vision, the Cigna Private Cloud (CPC) will eventually deliver a platform that provides data and applications as services. Developers will then be given tools to build their own automations and services on top of that platform. The CPC is being built also with an eye on "plugability" so it can introduce Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) technologies such as OpenShift by Red Hat® in the near future.
The initial deployment for the CPC consisted of a handful of 16-core, 256GB blades running Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization, with Red Hat Enterprise Linux®-based virtual machines acting as the core components of the system. Red Hat JBoss® Enterprise Application Platform, Red Hat JBoss Web Server, and Red Hat Satellite Server were other key tools.
Consultants help build prototype
Cigna also used Red Hat Consulting services to plant the architecture and implementation of both the Cigna On Demand proof of concept, and the private cloud design. Red Hat consultants played key roles in building the prototype, and are now defining future capabilities for Cigna's private cloud.
With its partnership with Red Hat, Cigna balanced the trade-offs of traditional commercial packaged software offerings. "Open source allows you to make a minimal investment while you try things out," said Starr. "If it doesn't work, you can go in a different direction. And Red Hat doesn't hinder or restrict us with complex licensing or cumbersome policies, which enables us to quickly deliver value to our user community."
IT costs pared
The CPC initiative helps Cigna's bottom line by carving out significant IT infrastructure costs.
"To further enable our U.S. growth as well as our international expansion, we need to manage our costs more closely than ever," said DeFeo. "The combination of Red Hat technologies, the innovations taking place inside our organization, and developments in the healthcare industry are all converging at exactly the right time for us to do that."
Red Hat has been a great partner with Cigna from the start, according to Cigna executives. "As we started down this path, we were always looking at the differences between commercial products and open source products. We found our Red Hat consultants to be invaluable partners during our evaluation and early-stage development activities," said DeFeo.
Internal speed benefits customers
Chief among the benefits of implementing the CPC is that Cigna's infrastructure group can now deliver services to internal customers much more quickly. "Our ability to quickly stand up infrastructure has now caught up with the rapid application development and agile methodologies that are being used in our development organizations. So that's a significant change," said DeFeo. "At the end of the day, our business partners and customers see the benefit."
The core user group of the CPC consists of developers, testers, and engineers. Provisioning time for a development environment has been slashed from several weeks to just minutes.
Internal teams unite behind open source
The CPC has eliminated barriers and fostered harmony between development and infrastructure groups. Today, interactions between those two groups are nearly seamless. "We married agile development methodologies with agile infrastructure and operations methodologies," said Stetson. "That's how to achieve true agility."
Red Hat's go-to-market methodology of pioneering innovation through open source community projects and then using them to create hardened enterprise products has resulted in high-value solutions, according to Starr. "By working with these upstream Red Hat community projects, our developers have been able to rapidly prototype and deliver new solutions to the Cigna businesses," he said.
In fact, Cigna is trying to incubate and reproduce Red Hat's community approach to development.
Cloud energizes teams
Cigna is also looking into establishing internal community-based support. Rather than putting a specific support organization in place to handle infrastructure problems that arise, it will encourage people to ask questions of the community, and let the community respond.
For DeFeo, however, the most dramatic effect of the CPC On Demand initiative wasn't technical, but organizational. "The greatest impact was the energy and collaboration across the IT organization. I've never seen better alignment between the development and infrastructure teams. This helps immensely in providing a unified IT face to our business partners, and keeps everyone very much focused on our customers."
Cigna more attuned to community
Going forward, DeFeo says Cigna is more in tune not only with its customers, but with the healthcare professional community—the doctors, urgent-care centers, and hospitals that deliver healthcare services to Cigna customers.
"The innovations, agility, and seamless interaction between the development and operations teams are crucial to our success going forward," he said. "Red Hat has played a very, very important part in this. We think of Red Hat as one of just a handful of superior engineering and support organizations in the United States."
"Red Hat and open source innovation is what made this all possible," said Stetson.