Getting the Most From Your Server Investment

By: Jose Allan Tan

Typical of any business in a booming environment, you expand operations, hire more people, open new offices (maybe even factories) in growth markets, and diversify product portfolio to capture a larger segment of the market. In the process, your IT infrastructure expands to cope with the expansion. All seems rosy at the time.

Then things turn for the worst. Competition is catching up, nipping at your established markets. A price war breaks out eating into your margins. To offset declining profits, you initiate an organization-wide cost-cutting exercise asking all departments to assess contributions to the bottom line.

The IT department has followed the business' expansion. You have built a 1,000-strong server across the four major countries. All offices have email servers and back-office servers supporting admin, accounting and HR functions. You also have a number of servers dedicated for sales and support. Bulk of your servers, and where most of the demand is coming from, is with the product development teams located in four major centers throughout the world. Each time a new application is approved for introduction into the business operations, new servers are shipped to the various offices loaded with the new application. An in-depth assessment of asset usage showed that most of the servers are under utilized. The accumulated computing power is staggering but so is the cost of maintaining these servers, the operating systems and the applications hosted.

The change in business climate is forcing you to streamline all areas of the operation. You have asked all business unit managers to cut corners where it made sense. You asked the CIO to do the same with the IT department. With server utilization at 30 percent and server sprawl growing at 30 percent per year, there is potential savings to be achieved by consolidating servers into fewer more powerful servers (retiring those with high maintenance cost and nearly zero book value). In addition, using virtualization technology, you can create virtual servers that can perform the same function as the original servers minus the hardware and maintenance/support costs associated with a physical device.

The CIO estimates that you will reduce hardware asset inventory by at least 30 percent. In addition, the reduction in physical hardware infrastructure will mean fewer machines to physically maintain freeing valuable IT skills to focus on application development and fewer requests for overtime during periods of scheduled maintenance. In addition, development of new applications can be scheduled faster as there is virtually no waiting time for new hardware to be ordered, delivered and installed.

Mike Clayville, Vice president and general manager for VMware's Asia Pacific operations notes that, "Virtualization has come of age in Asia Pacific. Today, companies can extract cost savings across their entire IT infrastructure from desktop, servers to applications. Server virtualization is a good first step towards virtualizing the entire IT infrastructure. Companies experience immediate significant savings from server virtualization by using less hardware while reap higher performance and utilization rates which can go as high as 80% in some cases, coupled with ease of management and improved flexibilty. More Asian companies have started the process of putting in place a robust virtual infrastructure to reduce their IT costs through increased efficiency, flexibility and responsiveness. There is no better time to implement virtualization technologies as they are now matured, proven, stable, easy to use and relatively cost-effective."

Brisbane is the center of Australia's fastest growing region. Taking the lead in growing the city is the Brisbane City Council. To meet the council's "Living in Brisbane 2010" vision, iDivision, the council's IT group, has been rapidly developing new applications that would enhancing the quality of life in the city. Initially, technical and performance requirements forced the policy of "one server per application." However, by late 2002, the iDivision had 85-small and medium-sized servers supporting various applications from job tracking and time management to large applications such as procurement.



Increased demand and growth of smaller applications led to server proliferation. This led to increase in maintenance and management costs. Scalability often required servers to be moved and replaced -- both disruptive and costly. With CPU utilization averaging up to 8 percent, the capital equipment costs were high compared to the value provided.

Anticipating further growth, the iDivision studied available options and recommended a server consolidation project to rein in rising costs and under utilization of assets. A team of server consolidation experts from Intel Solution Services (ISS) performed a technical assessment and financial analysis of the iDivision data center. Consultants from Microsoft and HP provided technical support.

ISS recommended consolidating the Web, database and Citrix servers using VMware ESX Server software. The proof-of-concept and pilot testing involved 22 physical Citrix servers consolidated onto two two ESX Servers and 13 physical SQL servers onto two Windows Server 2003 servers (the second servers were used as backup). Deployment of VMware ESX Servers across the entire datacenter soon followed the successful testing.

Figures 1 and 2 show projected savings to be achieved through consolidation both the Microsoft SQL Servers and its Citrix servers respectively. A 13:2 consolidation ratio for the Microsoft SQL Servers would yield AU$761,000 over four years. A 22:2 consolidation for Citrix servers would yield AU$850,000 savings over four years.



Earlier, a proposal by iDivision to build a disaster recovery site was turned down by the council as it involved replicating over 90 servers. The consolidation project cut the cost of a secondary site in half making it more affordable.

After successfully running a 32-partition ESX Server development for six months, iDivision undertook a migration of all production servers into the consolidated server environment. Ultimately, 20 VMware ESX Servers would handle the entire data center workload including testing.

Thinking about consolidating for your server environment? Check out a new addendum to this feature.

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