Corporate express rides virtualization ROI

Migrating physical server workloads to virtual servers has proven to be a fast track to IT savings for business products and services provider Corporate Express (CE), according to the company’s network and operations manager Derek Brown.

Although CE was an early adopter for VMWare’s virtualization application on workstations, Brown put forward a business case to use the technology to simplify its sprawling infrastructure.

“We have, like most companies, the three year-old servers coming off maintenance, our datacentre had run out of space about a year ago, and we had to pay for a co-location facility,” Brown said. “This resulted in a split data centre which gave its own challenges, including, power, air-conditioning, and associated costs like cabling and administration overhead of managing an ever increasing number of physical servers.”

CE consolidated many disparate servers onto four-way IBM xSeries servers which “probably are soon to be eight-way”.

“So it’s a very simple environment compared to what it was – imagine racks and racks of servers – and it was in disarray and this is easier to manage,” he said. “I surprised myself this morning, we have 55 virtual servers on those four boxes.”

Brown declined to comment on how much CE’s consolidation efforts have saved the company, only that it is “significant”.

“We had some issues with high-availability but the beauty of VMWare there is a config file that holds the configuration for your virtual environment,” he said. “If you loose a server you can literally fire that up on another machine. We typically deployed an environment in four hours previously and now it takes 10 minutes. This makes us enormously responsive.”

When asked if virtualization comes at a performance sacrifice, Brown said; “Servers have so much grunt these days the impact a virtualized platform is negligible.”

“Running Intel servers at 70 percent utilization is a nice paradigm shift,” he said. “We’re now at the point where the business no longer worries about what operating system, or what service spec of how much disk it needs – tell us your requirements and leave the solution to IT. That’s a healthy breathing space. And no longer do we have hour-long debates about how much an IT project is going to cost.”

CE is now investigating further investments in the virtualization space including using VMWare for disaster recovery and dynamic allocation of system resources.

“For me it means better ROI with 80 to 85 percent utilization,” Brown said.

Officially launching the six-year-old VMWare’s Australian operations, Asia Pacific director Jim Lenox, said the company already has a significant presence here when the workstation product started shipping in early 1999.

“By 2000 we had a couple of hundred evaluation downloads per month in Australia before we even had partners here,” Lenox said. Our business in Australia is highly weighted to the high-end products. We have and office in North Sydney, and we will be setting up another office in Melbourne over the next couple of months.”

Lenox said using VMWare to consolidate lightly-loaded servers onto a single box achieves cost savings on hardware on the order of 40 percent. “The biggest cost savings would be with the administration and management of servers which is about 80 percent,” he said.

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