Financial firm replaces Microsoft with VMware virtualization technology

  • (Network World)
  • 05 September, 2012 16:29

From the moment he walked in the door at BancVue in December 2010, Sunny Nair knew he wanted to move the financial services software company from Microsoft's Hyper-V to VMware's virtualization technology.

The company was having trouble with some applications crashing, and while that wasn't caused by Hyper-V, Hyper-V did make it harder to bring crashed servers back up quickly, says Nair, vice president of IT and systems operations for the Austin, Texas-based company.

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There were also time-stamp issues between the hypervisor and the host machines, meaning that the accuracy of logging was off and drifting further from real time day by day. "It becomes crippling," Nair says.

He decided that while Microsoft does some things well - BancVue is a Microsoft shop for desktops, servers and developing its products in .Net - VMware specializes in virtualization. Plus he'd had experience with VMware at a previous job.

Cost justification wasn't an issue, but overcoming the server-restoration problem and making more efficient use of infrastructure just made sense, he says.

The decision was pretty much Nair's to make. "I was head of data center operations and just made the call," he says. That was back in 2010, and his team started immediately testing applications on VMware virtual machines side-by-side with the same apps on Hyper-V. For the test he used free trial versions of ESXi and VCenter.

After a couple of weeks the four system admins who would have to deal with the environment day-to-day agreed to the switch, and the migration started. BancVue bought three Dell physical servers to host the VMware versions of applications. It took four to six hours to bring up each server, he says, such as a SQL server with one application running on it on one VM.

That meant that for a while the company had both a VMware version and a Hyper-V version ready to be in production. After the VMware version proved stable, the hardware for the Hyper-V version was recycled as the host for another group of VMware virtual servers, Nair says.

Initially the team used the VCenter Converter tool for the conversions between virtual machine formats, but found that sometimes it paid to manually convert the virtual machines due to crashes when using the tool. Manual conversions created a learning curve for the team, but in the end the team developed a better knowledge of the VMware environment that pays off now that it is up and running, he says.

While it could have been done faster, the transition took months because he wanted to be certain that the new server environment was stable. He says he could understand a business instead choosing an integrator or consultant to do the work instead in the interest of time - if it had the money, but that wasn't a luxury Nair had. He says he would engage VMware directly sooner to get their expertise in setting up the environment.

He says if he had it to do again, he would buy four more physical servers for the transition so he could maintain VMware and Hyper-V versions of virtual machines longer as a precaution. "I felt like we were working in a tight space," he says.

Separate switching between the production servers and the VMware servers would also have lessened the impact the transition had on the performance of the production network. "We were moving a lot of data," he says, and that sapped bandwidth.

He is adding features of vCloud, the new VMware bundle that can create software-defined data centers. He says initially he will use it to put end-of-life limits on virtual servers that are set up with the intent of being used temporarily. So if the development team sets up a VM for a SQL Server test, it will be taken down automatically after a set time, combatting what he calls virtualization sprawl where VMs are created but never dismantled because users forget.

He also wants to integrate VCenter Ops management suite for vSphere to give predictability to the environment. For example, it can create graphs that project when hardware use will hit a limit so he can add more before there is a crisis. "I hate getting caught by surprise," he says.

In general he is intrigued by the possibilities of vCloud because it affords elasticity within the data center that makes more efficient use of capacity by automatically adding servers as needed, but also tearing them down so the resources can be reallocated.

Virtualizing desktops is under consideration, he says, as a way to centralize security and eliminate infections more quickly, something he says is a huge issue now.

(Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter https://twitter.com/#!/Tim_Greene.)

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.

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