Virtualization too risky for some, but its ROI rules

Find out how virtualization made hardware and software changes less disruptive at the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco.

When seeking a way to make software and hardware changes less disruptive for Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco, senior systems architect Mike Bedford got just what he wanted and more from virtualization. Here, Bedford bemoans the fact that some IT vendors won't support virtualization and describes how the bank's heterogeneous IT environment benefited from using VMWare.

What non-technology issues related to virtualization give you headaches? Mike Bedford: Although a virtual infrastructure

is a sound and proven concept, we have found that one of most difficult situations is within the software vendors and ISVs. They simply have not gotten with the program and realized that VM (virtual machine) hosts are no different than traditional hardware based hosts.

Although there are no logical reasons, some vendors claim they will not support their products working within a VM. Ironically, the sales folks who demo these products come onsite with their solutions running on VM Workstation. It really is a lack of education and awareness that leads to these issues, and we know this is relatively new technology. Some folks take longer to adapt than others.

What operating systems do you use? What applications run on each OS?
Bedford: We use a mix of Windows, Linux, Solaris and IBM Unix. For the most part, we rely on the Windows-based platforms to handle all infrastructure services and core application tiers. Our Solaris and Unix systems are primarily used for heavy database and backend data repositories. Linux is used in the front end and edge core infrastructure services (DMZ) where appliance-like services are normally found.

Why do you run some applications on Windows and others on Linux virtual machines? Do you have any plans to change that or put more on Linux?
Bedford: The OS is normally decided based on best of breed. In many instances, Windows and Linux systems are not mutually exclusive. In fact, we feel a heterogeneous environment is advantageous, in that we can do more without being boxed into a single platform.

In traditional core service areas, Microsoft has indisputably dominated the field. In areas where we require dedicated niche technologies that demand the highest level of security, Linux can be a great alternative. Commonly, things like secure data transfer, externally hosted web services, external DNS and VPN devices are good fits for Linux because they can be customized and dedicated to serve a single function and serve that function very well.

Does VMware play well in your heterogeneous environment?
Bedford: VMware technology is complementary to many other technologies that we already use. In terms of the virtualization of computing resources, we seamlessly use VMware alongside Microsoft's Virtual Server offering. We target our more mission critical applications and services for the VMware product line, due to its maturity and features, and use the Microsoft solution for less critical implementations. In this way, we have been able to provide a very cost-effective approach to providing computing resources to our business.

How does virtualization assist your in-house developers?
Bedford: Our developers, they have begun to harness the power of VMware to perform better QA and UAT by simulating multiple platforms and environments without the exceeding expenses of maintaining such an environment. We really have found that we are only bound by our imagination on what we can use VM technology to do.

What open source software is used in your company?
Bedford: Our business involves many in-house solutions that have been coded by our developers to meet our unique requirements. Given this hard requirement, we use a variety of open source components in our specialized code to provide our solutions. Most of these applications are [best of breed] solutions that give us the needed edge to meet our customers expectations.

Summing up, what benefits have come from using virtualization?
Bedford: We have real tangible cost savings, hardware reduction, higher service levels, improved change management (which means less risk exposure), next to zero downtime maintenance and a true foundation for a heterogeneous platform environment.

We have cut costs dramatically by consolidating hardware, providing the required isolation and using higher-end hardware devices to keep system uptime and availability at an all time high. Couple of this with near instant provisioning of servers and we have proven a solid tangible ROI.


This was first published in March 2005

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