Nov 22 2011

Virtualization Case Study: Concerro

By consolidating with virtualization, Concerro was able to reduce the amount of time spent on maintenance

Mark Vasquez
Systems administrator
Company: Concerro
Location: San Diego
Description: A healthcare software-as-a-service firm
Employees: 63, four IT administrators
Project: Standardized on VMware ESX and vSphere; HP BladeSystem blade servers and C3000 chassis; and HP StorageWorks P4500 SANs. Started by consolidating 100 physical servers into 16 blades. Recently purchased another 16 blades and additional storage to keep up with customer and company growth.

BIZTECH: What were the top drivers for your server virtualization?

VASQUEZ: In 2009, we had about 100 physical servers in three collocation sites and found that they were very underutilized. With a buildout of that size, maintenance took a tremendous amount of time for a small IT team such as ours. Virtualization was a better way to manage a growing infrastructure, decrease maintenance time and reduce the amount we spend on hardware.

Another motivation was that we were enhancing the functions of our products, and we required more processing power and more RAM.

BIZTECH: What were your most important first steps?

VASQUEZ: Planning is definitely an important step. You want to make sure you have the right components and infrastructure before you move to production. Testing is also important.

We ran our applications on physical servers and on virtual servers and compared the results and performance. We found that performance was a lot better on the virtual servers running similar specs.

BIZTECH: What were the key challenges during implementation?

VASQUEZ: The most difficult process was migrating the physical servers to a virtual environment.

Virtualization Challenges

Which of the following challenges did your organization face?

41% Compatibility issues
37% Time required to implement
34% Funding
31% Technical support requirements
30% Training requirements
14% Uncertain ROI
13% Security concerns
9% Perception that virtualization is not beneficial for small businesses

SOURCE: CDW Small Business Server Virtualization Roadmap

There are physical-to-virtual migration tools, but we thought it best to start our migration from scratch, building with an updated OS version and system applications. For each client, we had to export the client’s database and web content and transfer that across a LAN link to our collocation site and import that into a new virtual machine. The process took four to five months, mainly due to maintenance and migration scheduling for each client.

BIZTECH: What helped you convince sen­ior management of virtualization’s value?

VASQUEZ: It’s a matter of showing the expense of upgrading and expanding physical servers and the monthly expense of collocation sites.

We showed them that we could eliminate one collocation site and pay for just two locations — and still have the ability to easily scale as we grow. It’s a pretty significant savings over the years, so it was easy to convince them.

BIZTECH: What is the main benefit your organization receives from virtualization?

VASQUEZ: I think being able to rapidly provision a new server is No. 1.

For example, if a client has more users than initially planned, it’s easy to just provision another virtual machine and have two VMs serve that client to smooth out the performance.

BIZTECH: How do you expect to benefit from virtualization in the future?

VASQUEZ: Cost savings and scalability. Our ultimate goal is to improve disaster recovery with virtualization. We are currently discussing the use or setup of a private—public cloud scenario, so we can continue to better deliver our content to our customers.

BIZTECH: How is your organization measuring success?

VASQUEZ: The ability to scale as we grow without excessive added costs, and the quick turnaround time for provisioning systems for clients. The costs of refreshing a physical server farm have been virtually eliminated.

For more on the benefits and successes of businesses as they migrate to server virtualization, read the feature story "Small Businesses Are On the Road to Virualization."