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Allstate Speeds into the DevOps Fast Lane with Cloud Foundry Deployment

18 Feb 2016 7:47am, by

“One thing that you learn quickly when you implement a platform like Cloud Foundry is: all of a sudden you’ve made one portion of your delivery pipeline really, really fast,” said Matt Curry, director of cloud engineering at Allstate.

In this episode of The New Stack Analysts podcast, Curry talked to TNS’s Alex Williams and Benjamin Ball about the eminent insurance company’s journey into continuous integration, continuous deployment and test-driven development using Pivotal Cloud Foundry. And, returning to the show was Bridget Kromhout, a principal technologist for Cloud Foundry at Pivotal.

This podcast is also available on YouTube.

Ball asked about the factors that led to Allstate choosing to commit to Cloud Foundry, a decision that pre-dates Curry’s time at Allstate, but which he warmly applauded.

“(The decision) was driven out of the need to accelerate the velocity by which they could deploy applications, and they realized that there were multiple aspects to that. There was the dynamically-provisional infrastructure perspective, and then there was enabling continuous delivery, enabling test-driven development and driving automation all the way through the application lifecycle,” said Curry.

“The pairing of Cloud Foundry with the Pivotal Labs consulting arrangement, I think, is really what ended up pushing them toward Cloud Foundry over a different solution,” he said.

“We didn’t try and use our virtualization team. We didn’t try and use an existing Linux administration team to stand it up. We plucked individuals out of teams and created a new Platform-as-a-Service team” — Matt Curry

Not that the Cloud Foundry deployment has entirely been unbridled velocity…

“There are also existing teams and silos and processes that cause friction,” Curry said. “No matter what you do, it’s impossible to get away from those. So you have to start figuring out how you’re going to optimize those things. We’ve started down that path,” adding that “We’ve made a big dent in the identity space; we have a big investment in some IBM tools around identity management.”

They’ve also been working on making it so that when a developer deploys a new Cloud Foundry application, that app “can be integrated with an app that was developed before we had the platform, and the user can seamlessly bounce between the two, and not have to re-login,” he said. “That was something we really wanted to drive from a user experience perspective.”

“We have a lot of the traditional hurdles that most companies will have,” said Curry. “The firewall request process is not really built to facilitate agile and accelerated delivery. The database provisioning and approvals and governance process is not really built for that, either. So we’re starting to dig through those things, and figure out how to optimize those things.”

“We know that as we begin to scale this effort even beyond where we’ve come this far, being able to make those things more efficient, more streamlined, more automated, is going to be critical to our success,” he said.

“And when you open-source those tools,” Kromhout interjected, “you’re going to send some wonderful conference proposals to all the various DevOps days, and Velocity, and OSCON. That’ll be great!”

“You need to actually have the culture and the sharing so that you can use these automation and measurement tools to their best effect,” she said.

Curry credited the leadership at Allstate, and particularly Andy Zitney, senior vice president of infrastructure services, for having the vision to not only make the change, but also how to go about making it. Both Zitney and Curry have been telling the Allstate cloud story.

“When we stood up Cloud Foundry, we stood it up with a dedicated team,” said Curry. “We didn’t try and use our virtualization team. We didn’t try and use an existing Linux administration team to stand it up. We plucked individuals out of teams and created a new Platform-as-a-Service team, and they were the team that was in charge of standing up that platform.”

“Doing that allowed us to challenge existing norms for what we do all around operating the platform,” he explained. “We made different decisions around how to monitor it. We made different decisions around how to deliver it. We saw it as an opportunity to really drive ‘doing automated everything.’ If you talk to some of the folks from Pivotal, we were pretty vocal early on that we didn’t really care that there was a GUI,” he recalls. “We wanted to be able to drive everything through APIs and pipelines, and deliver the platform at basically the touch of a button, or maybe even not that.”

“The consequence of that is, it sits very much outside of the existing infrastructure,” which for Allstate consists of WebSphere, .Net and Tibco. “We have Dev teams that are helping us with things like Cloud Foundry service brokers and integration points,” said Curry. “We just identify points of friction, and then address those points of friction as they come up.”

“We’ve been learning and reacting as we go,” he said. “We’ve mobilized people in a way that they can respond quickly.”

IBM and Pivotal are sponsors of The New Stack.

Feature image via Pixabay.


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