Nationstar Mortgage is one of the largest mortgage servicers and lenders in the United States, with a residential portfolio at March 31, 2014, totaling approx. $384 billion. Founded in 1994 and headquartered just outside Dallas, the company offers a broad range of conforming, Fannie Mae, FHA, FHLMC, VA, jumbo and USDA products directly to consumers.
Over the course of 18 months in 2012 and 2013, Nationstar tripled its headcount through both organic growth and a series of strategic mergers and acquisitions. That level of growth—unprecedented for a business in the mortgage industry—can strain an IT infrastructure, both in terms of scalability and interoperability, with minimal time for planning or change management. “When I arrived at Nationstar, there was a huge need to standardize the infrastructure,” says Calvin Nghe, assistant vice president of application and server virtualization at Nationstar Mortgage. “We had several hundred servers with different types of hot fixes, updates, Adobe versions, and so on. We had also acquired a number of systems that were poorly integrated with ours.”
At that time, Nationstar was already virtualizing a number of business-critical financial applications. The problem, says Nghe, is that every app was made available to every user regardless of need, putting a tremendous burden on computer resources. “You need different solutions for different use cases,” he says. “A developer should have a different profile setup than a task worker or business analyst. But in our system, everyone shared the same resources. We had a single desktop image with every application on it. There was no separation between the OS layer and the application layer, so a simple upgrade on any application was liable to cause downtime on another.”
As a result, a user could expect to wait as long as five minutes to log on to their desktop. A single process-intensive VLOOKUP query in Microsoft Excel could consume all available CPU and lock up the system for every user. Meanwhile, the help desk was constantly in firefighting mode, handling an average of 300 tickets per day.
The turning point came when Nghe’s team executed a major overall upgrade, only to find that the change was intended only for a training environment. To revert, they needed to perform a complete reinstall. “There was no back-out mechanism,” says Nghe. “During that time, our users were unable to access critical applications, including the app for processing loans. We can’t accept that level of downtime. It became very clear to us that we needed to do something radically different.”
Nghe was confident that the user experience could be transformed with the right combination of technology, people and processes. After many internal discussions, a three-step plan emerged.
The first critical step was to streamline desktop provisioning. This would enable Nghe and his team to accelerate the integration of acquired systems, quickly provision apps and desktops to new users and help ensure compliance whenever it became necessary to revert to an original state. Step two was to eliminate the layer of separation that had formed between the app and the operating system—a separation caused by the suboptimal practice of pulling the application from the image and virtualizing it. Finally, Nghe and his team took care to understand the user community like never before, enabling them to deliver the right solution to solve for different use cases. Developers and analysts, for example, would require dedicated memory and CPU, whereas task-based employees could use shared resources.
Nationstar is keeping pace with growth—and accelerating the integration of newly acquired systems—with a flexible, easy-to-manage solution for on-demand deployment of virtual resources. For example, Nghe and his team can now provision new users by simply sending them a thin client, vastly simplifying the onboarding process.
In addition, the process of building a server is far less time-consuming than it used to be. “Not too long ago, we would spend 10 hours building 10 virtual machines and still end up with errors,” says Nghe. “Now we can build 10 machines in 20 minutes. Our turnaround time to the business is much faster, and our work is more accurate because we’re less dependent on manual processes.”
The company’s growth plan includes the transition to a brand-new, enterprise-class data center. Virtualization will make it possible to execute that transition with no impact on users. “Citrix streamlines everything for us, all the way up to an entire data center migration,” says Nghe. “Instead of building servers manually, we just need to re-point the user to the new data center. That will save us thousands of hours.”
By finding smarter ways to manage virtualized resources, Nationstar has improved productivity across the organization. “When you automate components, you eliminate the chance of making mistakes,” says Nghe. “These days, our users encounter far fewer performance issues, and we spend far less time troubleshooting. Just as important, our developers have been able to automate a number of routine tasks. They’ve reinvested that time in more challenging, engaging projects that help drive innovation across the company.”
Nationstar’s new environment provides the tools and the oversight necessary for disaster recovery, data security and regulatory compliance. “In the event of a disaster, we can get users back online far more quickly because of our new provisioning capabilities,” says Nghe. “We’re also in a better position to manage our bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy while maintaining a more compliant environment. For example, Citrix solutions enable us to lock down components, dictating if and how any given user can access, read and write business-critical data to and from any other device. That level of control is crucial to keeping our environment secure.”
The next stage in Nationstar’s BYOD evolution is the implementation of a comprehensive solution for mobile device and application management. Currently, 65 percent of users access Nationstar’s internal website on a mobile device, including many traveling executives who interact directly with customers using tablets. As that number continues to rise, Nghe and his team are developing a larger library of mobile apps for Nationstar’s internal users. “That’s the next stage in our BYOD evolution,” he says. “Compliance will be a bigger challenge than ever, so we’ll need to deploy technology that will help us manage our growing mobile footprint.”
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