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Virtualisation: Rationalise - it’s logical

Quoting ComputerWorld

Virtualisation isn’t just about storage. Virtualisation of the operating system is becoming increasingly popular as well. By virtualising the operating system, companies are able to consolidate servers, increase central processing unit (CPU) and memory utilisation, and provision new servers faster.

One company that has benefited from virtualising the operating system is Manpower. Manpower specialises in providing temporary and contract staff. It also provides permanent recruitment, payroll and training services, and has an online job search service too.

Historically, Manpower in Asia had been run in a decentralised fashion, with each office handling its own computer rooms or data centres. About two years ago, Manpower decided that it needed to rationalise its operations. “We decided to consolidate all our data centres into one in Singapore and outsource it to IBM,” says Richard Ho, the data centre and service delivery manager of Manpower Asia Pacific. “The vision of Manpower’s IT is to create a simple infrastructure drive costs down and simplify management. Consolidation is the key to making things simple,” he adds.

Before consolidation, the company had about 200 servers across the region. They now have 70 physical servers in Singapore, having consolidated about 150 servers already, mainly from Japan and Australia. Of the 70 servers, 25 are running VMware’s ESX, a virtulisation solution from VMware. On average, each physical system hosts about four virtual machines.

Benefits galore
According to Ho, one major advantage of using virtualisation is that the company can now increase its utilisation level. “We have a lot of key web applications. Our [job] candidates and customers make use of the web to apply for a job, register with us, or fill in their timesheet. The nature of these applications is that CPU and memory is used unevenly during the day. By consolidating, we are able to drive up utilisation.”

Manpower manages all the different virtual servers using an administrative tool called VMware VirtualCenter. VirtualCenter serves as the central point of control for managing, monitoring, provisioning and migrating its virtual servers. Says Ho: “Through the VirtualCenter, we can view our entire infrastructure, manage and monitor the performance of physical servers and virtual machines, plus provide secure access to certain virtual servers.”

VirtualCenter’s ability to do rapid provisioning for virtual servers with deployment wizards and virtual machine templates has reduced the time needed for creating and deploying virtual machines. Notes Ho: “Our service level to our internal customers has gone up. We have multiple environments—production, development, testing, staging and user acceptance testing. Internal customers need servers on the fly. If you actually have to prepare a physical server, it takes a few weeks. With a virtual server, we can clone from the template and have the new server up and running in a few hours.”

Another administrative tool he finds useful is VMware’s VMotion. This is an application that allows the IT department to move a virtual server from one physical server to another without affecting any of the services. Says Ho: “In the data centre, we have to create different zones, Internet-facing zones and core zones, for security purposes. These zones have different security levels. Very often, we need to move servers from one zone to another. With VMotion, we can move virtual servers on the fly from the core zone to the Internet facing zone quickly with no downtime.” VMotion also allows Manpower to handle fluctuations in usage. “If there is an unexpected spike, when we discover it, we can move the application to another server which has more CPU and memory resources. Users don’t even notice that we have moved servers.”

Dismantling walls
While virtualisation technology has not been a problem for Manpower, it faced some resistance from the different offices that were going to have their applications hosted on virtual servers in Singapore. According to Ho, people were uncomfortable with not being on a physical server. To allay their concerns, Manpower set up their application in a test environment first. The company would run the test for two to three months. After everyone is satisfied, the application is moved to a virtual production server. Overall, according to Ho, Manpower is pleased with its virtualisation strategy which has enabled the company to rationalise resources, lower the operating and maintenance costs, increase uptime and improve the quality of service delivered to its internal customers.

According to Jim Lenox, VMware country manager, Asia South, virtualisation is becoming increasingly popular at the data centre. “Today nearly 90 per cent of servers sold are on the x86 infrastructure,” he says. “Traditionally the x86 infrastructure has been the most underutilised part of the data centre. Through virtualisation, not only are x86 infrastructure utilisation rates improved, but it’s now possible to achieve the levels of reliability, availability, scale using industry-standard servers that were previously only possible with high-end RISC and mainframes.” While virtualisation may not be appropriate for all companies, it is particularly useful for companies that have many servers with low utlisation rates. By consolidating virtual servers on one physical server, utilisation rates naturally shoot up.  In addition, some applications need such a high performance server that running it on a virtual server would drastically increase the hardware requirements for the physical server host. For example, Manpower’s SQL database still runs on a physical server. Ho attributes this to the fact that its SQL database requires a high performance server. “If the servers which were hosting the ESX server met the specifications required, we would have hosted it there and virtualised it,” says Ho.

Read or comment on the original, here.

Published Thursday, January 11, 2007 6:57 AM by David Marshall
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