American Foreign Service
Protective Association:
Cloud Migration

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Background

Based in Washington, DC, the American Foreign Service Protective Association (AFSPA) is a 100-person firm that sponsors insurance plans for U.S. Federal government employees working in foreign policy as well as retirees. Its 80,000 members work at U.S. embassies, consulates, and military bases worldwide, as well as at home in the U.S. AFSPA provides its members with a variety of insurance policies, including the Foreign Service Benefit Plan (FSBP), a healthcare plan. FSBP staff provide support for insurance claims, acting as a liaison between claims processors, in-country service providers, and members filing insurance claims abroad.

Challenge

AFSPA made its initial move to the Azure ecosystem by migrating to Office 365 and immediately experienced enormous gains in efficiencies and improved secure access for its workforce. Recognizing the tremendous advantages Azure offered, AFSPA leadership set a goal to migrate from its current private-cloud data center to a more robust and resilient public-cloud environment. Of all the countless benefits of moving to Azure, the primary drivers for AFSPA would be availability and scale.

Prior to moving to Azure, AFSPA was dependent on a traditional data center that relied heavily upon stable point-to-point connectivity to AFSPA’s headquarters office, with periodic service outages (power, network, and accidental maintenance periods) that were becoming a liability to ongoing business operations. In addition to the data center’s shortcomings, there were also common hardware resiliency risks which could compromise continuity of operations. With tens of thousands of members depending on AFSPA to process claims rapidly and provide services promptly, such risk exposure ran counter to AFSPA’s business goals to process claims quickly.

A secondary objective was to enhance the capabilities of AFSPA’s remote and mobile workforce. AFSPA wanted to ensure employees would have access to the same systems as those at corporate headquarters so they could remain productive at all times. With the world facing the challenges of Covid-19, this access was more important than ever. Understanding that the new infrastructure must be flexible enough to handle these requirements, Cloudforce was confident that Azure would be up to the task.

GOAL 1:  Migrate to a More Reliable and Scalable Infrastructure

GOAL 2:  Enable Secure Telework

Solution

Cloudforce quickly provided AFSPA with a strategic roadmap to achieve its objectives. The first step was to migrate AFSPA’s private-cloud infrastructure to Azure’s highly stable, scalable, and secure cloud environment, eliminating all issues with network connectivity, power system failures, and hardware resiliency risks. Employees experienced no changes to their day-to-day activities, as Cloudforce elite cloud engineers seamlessly migrated all server, database, storage, and networking components to Azure behind the scenes. By leveraging the Cloud Adoption Framework for Azure (specifically the Define Strategy, Plan, Ready, Adopt, Govern and Manage migration waves), and utilizing Azure Migrate in conjunction with Azure Site Recovery (ASR), Cloudforce was able to achieve these results.

In addition to migrating their internal infrastructure, AFSPA required that existing integrations with their many external partners be migrated as well. This required the creation of, and coordination on, multiple network configurations to avoid any disruption to their respective businesses. Utilizing Azure’s robust network services, Cloudforce staff ensured the employee experience would be one of elevated security, consistency, and value.

Results

Prior to migration, AFSPA experienced technology disruptions as often as weekly during particularly problematic periods. Following the migration to Azure, disruptive outages have been completely eliminated. AFSPA now has confidence in the uptime of their business-critical systems, thanks to the highly reliable, redundant, and fault-tolerant Azure environment. The boost in reliability and scalability has enabled AFSPA to take on more employees—and more members—without fear of interruption.

The client experience means nothing without the numbers to back it up, so here they are:

  • Virtual machine count dropped from 39 to 36
  • Of the 39, eight were rebuilt and/or consolidated while the rest were lift and shift operations
  • Migrated machines spanned across many different platforms:
  • Windows Server 2008 R2, 2012, 2016, and 2019
  • Linux: CentOS running Apache
  • Database and database related servers (part of this was consolidating two SQL servers into one, replatforming using the SQL Server 2019 on Windows Server 2019 offer from the Azure Marketplace)
  • Virtual Appliances running proprietary operating systems
  • All VMs now utilize Azure Backup (where compatible):
  • ASR paired with GRS is implemented for high priority VMs
  • External network connectivity now leverages Azure resources:
  • Virtual Network Gateway
  • NAT Gateway
  • Virtual appliances from the Azure Marketplace

 

RESULT 1:  Cloud Infrastructure

RESULT 2:  Elimination of Downtime

RESULT 3:  Empowered Remote Workforce

 

Post-migration, AFSPA’s IT platform is now optimized for the scale and dependable availability critical to AFSPA’s mission of caring for its members’ health worldwide. “I can sleep much better at night knowing that Cloudforce is taking care of everything IT-related for AFSPA,” said Paula S. Jakub, Chief Executive Officer/Executive Vice President at AFSPA. Kyle Longton is the Chief Operating Officer at AFSPA. From his perspective, Cloudforce has taken a vested interest in AFSPA’s success. Prior to hiring Cloudforce, Mr. Longton saw much frustration with IT among AFSPA employees. “That’s not the case anymore,” he noted. “Cloudforce is very collaborative and they’re always looking for solutions to meet our needs. I have confidence they will be responsive and proactive.”

Since Cloudforce finalized their migration, AFSPA’s return-on-investment has been immediate, with reduced IT risks and a considerably upgraded experience. With Azure’s on-demand expenditure estimates and invoice exporting, AFSPA now also benefits from real-time transparency into IT budgeting and expenses; and unexpected expenses for infrastructure changes and loss of productivity are now a distant memory. “Trust means everything when you’re dealing with IT,” noted Ms. Jakub, adding, “I now have a much better understanding of exactly what I’m spending IT dollars on, thanks to Cloudforce.”

Conclusion

Thinking back on the work that Cloudforce has done for AFSPA, Mr. Longton commented, “I would highly recommend Cloudforce. They are true partners, and that has made all the difference for AFSPA.” Ms. Jakub characterizes Cloudforce as: “Excellent, trustworthy, complete, and comprehensive. I trust them to think of things I don’t even know about. They are an extension of the organization, and they are allowing us to accomplish goals that we’ve been wanting to do for a long time.”

Quotes

“Trust means everything when you’re dealing with IT. I feel I can trust Cloudforce absolutely. Their operation is like Ft. Knox, which gives me much greater peace of mind.”

Paula S. Jakub CEO/EVP, AFSPA

 

“They’re not just your typical IT company. They’re able to offer solutions beyond what we could even imagine.”

Kyle Longton COO, AFSPA

Cloudforce mission

We leverage the power of the cloud to build awesome things and make lives better.

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