Australian manufacturing icon Hills Industries is powering ahead with in IT refresh that will see that majority of its server infrastructure go virtual.
Hills IT director Mike Radosav started in IT when mainframes were state of the art technology and the idea was to have a central core of applications running over the WAN to branches.
“That concept was always sensible to me,” Radosav said. “Now we have lots of rack mounted units filling up cabinets and this led to the proliferation of IT professionals doing less innovative work and more fault rectification.”
With more than 180 servers presenting management and efficiency challenges, Radosav investigated virtualisation technology three years ago and has since reduced the count to around 100, with 80 going virtual.
“The concept of virtual appealed to me, like being able to relocate the environment from one location to another for DR planning,” Radosav said.
“At Hills industries were are from a manufacturing background and IT was always seen as a cost overhead so by reducing costs associated with applications we saved a significant amount of money.”
The raw server count has been reduced, but Radosav still faces challenges with architectural design for virtualisation and remote access to applications.
“The two significant areas are how to manage the database servers and how to successfully virtualise Unix,” he said.
Hills has Windows Server 2003 and HP-UX and is using JD Edwards (Oracle) and an in-house commercial system which may be migrated to JD Edwards in the future.
“The platform will be Unix – AIX or HP-UX – and we will look at our options into the next five years. You need to make sure the operating system and CPU requirements are all looked after as some applications are inefficient and that effects your design.”
Hills had a number of challenges virtualising its Citrix servers, but after “a lot of work” got it to an acceptable level.
“A lot of time was devoted to Citrix. When we started we only got 40 to 50 sessions per virtual server, but now we've got it up to 120 which is comparable to a physical machine.”
Based in Adelaide with 145 branches around Australia, Hills has an IT staff of 50 serving around 1600 users. Its infrastructure is hosted in a single cloud in an Adelaide data centre.
Virtual application support improving
Regarding the level of support for applications running in virtual machines, Radosav said it is good where it already exists, but where it is not officially supported the problem lies in “going to a great deal of trouble” creating the problem on a physical machine.
“Having a complete server idle is a rare thing and the amount of planing and work required delays the recovery time and affects user experience so that is an issue,” he said.
“It would be excellent if we had more uptake from vendors to support apps under a virtual environment. That is an acknowledge issue for us as well, but I must say that it is far better than it used to be.”
Still, Hills is unable to virtualise any Oracle database servers.
Radosav is happy with VMWare as a virtual platform, but will look at Microsoft's Hyper-V and Citrix's XenApp as alternatives.
“We would be interested in the VMWare roadmap in a bit more detail,” he said. “The challenge has always been, as VMWare is concerned, is strategically designing the architecture. VMWare is easy and cheap, but then you may have an environment created on ad-hoc needs so I emphasise the strategy in architectural design. Our 80 vms have been created on business needs.”
With the majority of its applications deployed on Citrix, Radosav found it challenging to integrate third-party systems from acquisitions and will look at VDI as an alternative when it matures.
“Citrix CALs are not cheap and the biggest challenge for Citrix is VDI. When VDI matures we will consider it,” he said.
“I'm a fan of virtualisation, but also a cynic as VMware may be superseded by something else.”