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Virtualization technology use spreading into desktops and storage

Servers are still prime virtualization candidates, but CIOs are also looking at desktop and storage virtualization and tweaking virtualization technologies for project testing.

The use of virtualization technology, particularly for server consolidation, has led to some pretty impressive savings for midmarket companies. With those wins under their belt, CIOs are looking for additional benefits from further tuning their virtual server environments, as well as from storage and desktop virtualization.

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Extra Space Storage Inc., a self-service storage space provider with 685 facilities and 2,500 employees, exemplifies the benefits of consolidation through server virtualization. The firm saved $100,000 to $150,0000 on the cost of a new data center chiller alone by virtualizing 63 servers down to 46.

The company is using VMware ESX to reduce that number even further, from 46 to 15 servers in the coming year, as it strives to go green. CIO Bill Hoban said the consolidation helps Salt Lake City-based Extra Space Storage avoid costly UPS system upgrades as well.

Extra Space Storage will tackle its EMC storage array next. The company will move all shared files on servers across departments onto the EMC storage array. At the same time it will set a cutoff point for stored customer information at 37 months, instead of keeping information forever, which is its current policy.

"So any customer information older than 37 months we plan to take off EMC and put it on someone else's virtualization [infrastructure] or cloud like [Amazon] AWS or Google," Hoban said. "With the storage array, that's a pretty expensive piece of equipment to hold [archived] data, when it could be better utilized for real-time data."

Testing the limits of virtualization technology

Peet's Coffee & Tea Inc., a coffee retailer with 195 locations that also delivers products to 8,200 grocery stores, has spent the past two years consolidating servers with VMware ESX.

It did not set out to use ESX as a tool in its ERP implementation, but that's what happened when CIO Tom Cullen started to work with VMware's Stage Manager technology.

"We are using Stage Manager to make a virtualized electronic fence around our testing environments for production testing of our ERP system and boundary systems like order management, accounting and inventory management," Cullen said. The company also tests its new integration layer, based on Microsoft BizTalk Server, in the Stage Manager environment.

Cullen said building such an environment pushed the boundaries of the product's capabilities. Peet's also had to push Microsoft to support Microsoft Dynamics AX on VMware virtualization technology -- building its own mock test environment would have been too complex an undertaking. (Read more about Peet's ERP implementation in "ERP case study: Implementing ERP to manage growth, fix legacy issues.")

DR and desktop virtualization

The IT department in Mississippi's Rankin County hit quite a wall -- literally -- when it ran out of space in its data center. It was housed in a historic building that could not be altered or expanded.

The need for server consolidation was obvious, which led to 40 servers becoming 10 housing mission-critical applications. Another saving grace of virtualization technology was disaster recovery. The IT department serves not only government agencies like public works and tax collection, but also the county's emergency 911 call center.

We are using Stage Manager to make a virtualized electronic fence around our testing environments for production testing of our ERP system and boundary systems.
Tom Cullen
CIOPeet's Coffee & Tea
"I couldn't really take those kinds of servers offline, even at night, for maintenance, and 911 is a critical application that couldn't come down at all, especially when it was likely to come down during a disaster," said Billy Rials, director of IT for the county.

Rials' team installed Citrix XenServer for server consolidation. It's also using Citrix XenDesktop inside of virtualized servers to back up critical applications and operating systems. If the 911 application server goes down, it's simply switched over to another virtual machine (VM) or server.

XenDesktop also lets Rials publish an entire desktop to end users on any device they are using, such as laptops, Wyse thin clients, Web browsers and, in the future, mobile devices.

Managing virtualization technology

Kroll Factual Data Inc. has reduced 650 of its 1,700 physical servers to 22 boxes using Microsoft Hyper-V. Management tools need to be put in place to gain further efficiencies, said Christopher Steffen, principal technical architect at the Loveland, Colo.-based credit report processing arm of risk consultancy Kroll Inc.

Since the company is a Microsoft shop, it's using a combination of the System Center server and desktop management suite integrated with Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager.

"We want the ability to manage our entire virtual environment from QA to production through one pane of glass," Steffen said. "And because the System Center suite is so integrated we will be alerted before anything happens and should not have any downtime."

Up next is resource optimization. To do that, Steffen is beta testing a tool, from a vendor that he could not disclose, that would show IT the resource requirements of applications running in a VM. "We'll be able to see which resources are reaching a threshold and which machines no longer need power and can be shut down or brought off the grid entirely."

Going green through the use of virtualization technology, such as the tool Steffen is beta testing, is a priority for many midmarket companies that have already gone down the path of server consolidation. While going green they are realizing significant cost savings, finding room in their data center and on servers that they didn't think they had, and freeing up budgets for new projects as a result.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Christina Torode, Senior News Writer

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