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Virtual servers key to consolidated data center

When is the right time to have virtual servers? When consolidating two data centers means you'd have to build new just to house existing servers.

When Veeco Instruments Inc. decided to consolidate its corporate office with a manufacturing facility about a mile away in Plainview, N.Y., senior IT director Linda Chan took the opportunity to do a little consolidating of her own: revamping the company's data center.

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Since the midmarket company went public in 1994, Veeco has grown rapidly, with revenue jumping from $30 million to $402 million in 2007. There have been a dozen acquisitions, including five in a single year.

All of which made for a mishmash of IT systems and legacy data centers. The company, which makes equipment for high-tech manufacturing, runs plants in six states and maintains offices in 20 countries, from Europe to Japan. Each manufacturing locale had its own data center and at one point the company was running 10 different enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.

Earlier this year, Chan consolidated most data center functions to the new location -- and at the same time reduced the number of servers. And the size of the IT department has been reduced from 34 people to 22.

"We've been able to do more with less," Chan said.

The impetus for change came when the CEO decided to combine facilities.

"My first thought was 'just move the physical servers,'" Chan said. "Then virtualization occurred to me. I said, 'Let's think out of the box.' Dell did an ROI analysis for us. Not all servers can be virtualized."

The Plainview plant already had a data center, but it was too small to accommodate all of the company's servers. The room would have to be physically expanded and a new air conditioning system installed. But dozens of servers could be virtualized onto two, which to Chan became the obvious choice. The new data center runs 50 servers, including the virtualized ones.

"We were able to prove that it made sense," Chan said. "It wasn't a hard sell. We were really planning to invest more than we did. We didn't have to put in a 10-ton air conditioning unit. We're expecting payback in less than a year."

Veeco decided to remake the data center in two phases. The first, which involved virtualizing less important servers, took place in March. Veeco purchased equipment from Dell Inc. and hired consultants to run the first week of the changeover.

"The biggest challenge was just the time [it took] to move the servers," Chan said. "We were bringing Japan live with SAP at the same time. We had a 12-hour window to move the servers. Everything worked out well. I've built data centers from scratch and moved servers around before, but this had a lot more involved."

Chan is now working on an ROI assessment for a second phase that would virtualize mission-critical servers in 2009. All ERP, financial and sales applications will be located at Plainview, while a few remote servers will handle local tasks. Email servers will also be virtualized.

Veeco has also consolidated its disaster recovery facilities, turning a legacy data center in Tucson, Ariz., into a full-scale failover site.

"We've made it much more redundant," Chan said. "We really needed to create a 24-by-7 operation. We're supporting apps for sites worldwide."

The biggest challenge was just the time [it took] to move the servers.
Linda Chan
senior IT directorVeeco Instruments Inc.
Consolidating the data center also allowed the company to make it more green.

"We did an airflow study using a Dell model," Chan said. "The old system we were using just pushed hot and cold air around. The study helped with the proper placement of the ducts and where the servers are situated."

For the next round of data center improvements, Chan is looking at deploying Riverbed Technology Inc.'s wide-area data services product as another way to avoid having to purchase more servers.

"Our overall goal is to centralize as much as possible," she said.

Like many CIOs, Chan said the economic slowdown has reinforced the need to keep expenses tightly controlled.

"We're always looking to IT to help with cost savings," she said. "We've been asked to look at ways to save, such as using Skype and internalized conference servers. We're also looking at business process apps within SAP. Even before the economic crisis I had to prove and ROI everything."

Michael Ybarra is a monthly columnist for SearchCIO-Midmarket.com and a former senior writer at CIO Decisions magazine. He is also the author of Washington Gone Crazy. Write to him at editor@searchcio-midmarket.com.


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