Nov 10 2010

Spotlight on Server Virtualization

Small and midsize businesses are becoming increasingly aware of server virtualization’s benefits. By consolidating the functions of multiple servers on a single machine, organizations can save on equipment purchases, streamline IT administrative activities, simplify disaster recovery and business continuity, and cut energy costs.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America certainly realizes these advantages. Like many organizations, Big Brothers Big Sisters needed to do more with less. Although it supports a network of nearly 400 agencies nationwide, the Philadelphia-based parent organization is a small operation with 100 employees. David Phelan, senior software application developer, says resource constraints led it down the path to virtualization.

“Big Brothers Big Sisters supports its network by providing real-time data acquisition and communication systems, allowing staff to provide support and collect progress metrics on nearly a quarter-million mentoring relationships,” Phelan explains. “Development of our flagship application service provider system, Agency Information Management, was insourced in late 2009 when we were under pressure to reduce our expenses. We had the budget for one server, but we needed several to properly set up and partition development and user acceptance testing environments for our software solutions. Separation of functionality on different servers was a must, but we didn’t want to rebuild the solutions when we outgrew capacity.”

Phelan implemented VMware’s vSphere Hypervisor. The results were evident immediately. “By far the biggest benefits we’ve seen are flexibility and utilization,” he says. “Being able to expand as needed, without a major purchase, has been a boon. We’re also making better use of what processing, memory and storage we do have — using a few midrange systems rather than dozens at low utilization with periodic spikes.”

Phelan notes that after hosting 11 virtual machines on one server, Big Brothers Big Sisters saved roughly $30,000 — the cost of the 10 servers it no longer needed to purchase. It has since expanded to 15 virtual machines and three hosts, which had previously operated as dedicated systems. There will be more changes too.

“We’re moving to storage consolidation and virtualization next, with a long-term goal of a near-complete virtualized infrastructure,” Phelan says. “We’re looking forward to reaping the benefits — not only of acquisition and operating costs, but also fault tolerance and disaster recovery. Despite being a small shop, the reliability of our network’s daily operations is paramount. We see great value in providing better data security and process management with fewer expenditures.”

Optimizing the Data Center

Virtualization begins with a virtual platform. For its VMware vSphere 4 virtualization platform, VMware offers Essentials and Essentials Plus kits that are geared toward small IT environments with fewer than 20 physical servers.

VMware markets vSphere 4 as a cloud operating system, allowing users to consolidate their server, network and storage resources as a single pool or as a private cloud to protect applications and data while leveraging existing IT assets.

vSphere includes vSphere Hypervisor, which lets administrators create virtual machines and run multiple applications on a single server. The VMware vCenter Server provides centralized management and performance monitoring of virtual environments. From a single view, administrators can monitor virtual machines, hosts, data storage and other elements of the virtual infrastructure. Additionally, vCenter Server supports VMware Distributed Power Management, which reduces power consumption when the cluster needs fewer resources.

For business continuity, virtualization automates the data restoration process and makes it hardware-independent. VMware Data Recovery includes image-level and individual file restoration, full and incremental backups and centralized management.