nutanix

Washington Health Benefit Exchange

Washington Health Benefit Exchange Meets Affordable Care Act Targets

Business Needs

Compute and storage platform with sufficient performance and high availability to support multiple business applications, including VDI and SQL Server. Small footprint, fast installation, agile growth, and pricing within limited budget were critical factors to consider.

Solution

The Nutanix Virtual Computing Platform (NX-2000 and NX-3000 Series).

Benefits

  • Cost up to 40% less than competitive hardware platforms and cloud-based services
  • Solid performance even with multiple business applications
  • Flexibility and ease of use to handle dynamic environment of online exchange
  • Smooth software update process

Background

The Washington Health Benefit Exchange is a public-private partnership responsible for implementing an online health insurance marketplace in compliance with the Affordable Care Act. The organization was created in 2012 and went live on October 1, 2013, with Washington Healthplanfinder, the official ACA-compliant health benefit exchange for the State of Washington. About 120 employees work for the Exchange, half of which are focused on IT.

Like a Startup

To fulfill a key provision of the Affordable Care Act, the Washington Health Benefit Exchange was tasked with creating an online health insurance exchange for the state of Washington on a limited budget and fast timeline. This meant building an organization and infrastructure, software and hardware, to provide the online marketplace for consumers. “Our startup money was federal grant funds. We’re funded through this year and then we have to be self-sustaining in 2015,” said Curt Kwak, CIO.

The Washington Exchange needed infrastructure for its internally focused business applications. As a spinoff of a state organization, the employees were used to a certain level of application capability, so it was important to select a platform that could deliver sufficient performance and availability. “It was like a startup when I joined,” said Chris Johnson, Manager of Infrastructure Services. “We were building from scratch and really looking for a small footprint and agile deployment.”

I am very pleased to have our organization’s infrastructure built on a dynamic, yet very cost competitive product, which allowed us to achieve all our local infrastructure goals. I look forward to expanding our footprint with Nutanix in the years to come.

– Curt Kwak, Chief Information Officer

Nothing Like Nutanix

Johnson first learned about the Nutanix converged compute and storage platform from the desktop engineering group at his prior company, which enthusiastically recommended it for VDI. The Washington Exchange team became very intrigued with Nutanix as well. “It was nice to have a single, all-in-one platform. Nutanix really sold itself, just being able to do what we needed in a smaller footprint, and the cost was very competitive too,” said Johnson.

The IT staff did consider other hardware platforms and cloud-based services, but none came close to the Nutanix Virtual Computing Platform’s combination of high performance, small footprint, flexibility and pricing which was up to 40% less than the competition. “Dollar-for-dollar, there wasn’t anything comparable. It’s really unmatched right now,” Johnson added.

The Washington Exchange installed its first Nutanix system in November 2012. The rollout was simple and smooth. They were able to stand it up in one morning and began building VMs on it right away. “I couldn’t imagine the installation going any smoother,” said Johnson.

It was nice to have a single, all-in-one platform. Nutanix really sold itself, just being able to do what we needed in a smaller footprint, and the cost was very competitive too.

– Curt Kwak, Chief Information Officer

Solid Performance While Running Multiple Applications

About 30 virtualized servers and 200 virtual desktops now run on two Nutanix Virtual Computing Platform systems at the Washington Exchange, with workloads balanced between them. They support business applications such as SQL Server, VMware Horizon View, domain controllers, and file and print servers. Virtual desktops run on zero clients at the office. For remote access, employees and trusted state agency partners can access desktop clients on their laptops, PCs, tablets and iPads.

been high, as indicated by user satisfaction. “The Nutanix platform has been very reliable, with zero downtime ever due to hardware failures. The solution has been very well received throughout the organization with everything we’ve done. It makes me feel good about the job I’m doing,” said Johnson. In particular, remote access with VDI is a huge improvement over Citrix VPN sessions. “Users are ecstatic with the performance and all the features they get with the View deployment on Nutanix.”

The combination of Nutanix and VMware has provided ample power and flexibility to manage the organization’s dynamic environment. “The ease of management is huge as it helps me keep my team small.” Requests for new or modified servers and desktops come in frequently, and the integration and simplicity of the Virtual Computing Platform make it easy to respond quickly, even with a small IT team. “We turn around server requests in a matter of minutes or hours instead of waiting for new hardware to come in. It’s great.” said Johnson. They also report that the management GUI is very intuitive and easy to learn.

Support has exceeded expectations, according to Johnson. “Nutanix staff take the time to address not only Nutanix, but also the VMware virtualization layer issues. We received tremendous support from the Nutanix sales group and technical support team. My team definitely appreciates them,” he added.

The software upgrade process has been very smooth and seamless because of its non-disruptive nature. As an early adopter of the Nutanix Virtual Computing Platform, the team has had the system long enough to go through a couple of software updates. According to Johnson, they are very pleased with the performance improvements and additional features that have come with these upgrades.

The Nutanix platform has been very reliable, with zero downtime ever due to hardware failures. The solution has been very well received throughout the organization with everything we’ve done. It makes me feel good about the job I’m doing. It has been a workhorse for us, and it’s good knowing it’s there and it’s reliable.

– Curt Kwak, Chief Information Officer

Ready to Grow with Nutanix

Washington Exchange expects to grow this year and feels ready and able with Nutanix in place. They may also migrate email from the hosted Microsoft 365 cloud service to running it in-house on the Nutanix platform. Having experienced enough hiccups with the cloud email service, they are considering moving it to the more reliable Nutanix platform.

Another consideration is virtualizing the remaining physical desktops. “I would love an all-VDI shop because there is so much less downtime for users. If a zero client goes down, all it takes is plugging in a new one and users don’t loose any data,” said Johnson.

Overall Johnson is very pleased with the decision of going with Nutanix. “I feel great about it. It has made my team’s job easier. It has been a workhorse for us, and it’s good knowing it’s there and it’s reliable.”