Dell embraces virtualisation, saves $US60 million

Dell's six year virtualisation journey has seen it dodge the prospect of ripping and replacing every one of its global data centres

The deployment of server virtualisation and a move to a new storage environment have helped Dell avoid the expense of replacing every one of its global data centres.

Speaking at a roundtable in Sydney, Dell’s A/NZ enterprise marketing manager Justin Boyd, said in as 2004 Dell came to the realisation that if its rocketing storage and server needs continued, every one of the company’s data centres would need ripping and replacing by the end of 2009.

“That would have had a huge impact on our share price and profit to share holders so we undertook a project around virtualisation, refreshing our hardware products and power and cooling, as well,” he said.

The resulting project saw the company reduce server numbers down from an initial 26,000 and decommission and redeploying older systems. It also had a positive impact on power consumption and cooling efficiency, Boyd said.

“By the end of 2009 we will have about 10,000 virtual servers across the globe, and from a monetary perspective in the first year [of the project] we realised about $US30 million in real savings. These are not ROI numbers, these are real, physical dollar amounts that we have saved,” he said

“By the end of the this year we believe we will have saved $US60 million around power and cooling, the way we designed our data centres so we did not have to upgrade to new ones and the efficiencies of the new product sets [we used].”

As a result Dell also increased the utilisation of its existing servers, Boyd said. Prior to the project, the average server was running at about 10 to 15 per cent untilisation. In its virtualised servers the average utilisation is now 85 per cent.

Dell was also able to boost the power efficiency of its physical servers by adopting servers based on Intel’s Nehalem processor chip-set.

However, as a result of the project Dell encountered a number of challenges around power and cooling in its data centres, Boyd said.

“One of the issues we found was that once you start to virtualise your environment you start to create hot spots in your data centre, so we did a lot of work with companies like APC top redevelop or rethink how we delivered power and cooling into our data centres,” he said.

Dell also reexamined its approach to storage moving the whole company to a tiered approach including lower RPM drives and moving data from disc to tape. It has also begun to deploy iSCSI-based storage in the core of its data centres and in other locations.

“What we did was take a look at the type of storage used as if you only have brown spinning discs then it is using power all the time and in turn needs cooling to keep your data centre cool,” he said. “Storage is no longer about brown spinning disc. Customers, and Dell itself, are after more intelligent storage.”

Currently the company has around eight petabytes of data around the globe and is classed as the fifth largest user of SAN globally.

Another key area of the project was the management of the new environment Boyd said. This aspect saw the company roll out it’s a management console based on the Altiris engine.

“It’s all great having all this new technology but how do you then go and manage it?” he said. “Because, for every one dollar or two you spend on new server or storage hardware you spend five to six on managing it.”

With the cloud services market expected to grow to about $47 billion over the next couple of years, according to Boyd, Dell was looking to roll out its own cloud services into the Australian market in late November.

The ‘Modular Services’ offering, currently in trial by a number of local customers, will be based on capabilities gained via four acquisitions the company has made over the past few years – EverDream, MessageOne, Sliverback and ASAP, according to Peter Shannon, services marketing manager, ANZ at Dell.

Shannon said the services will be around managing distributed devices; software inventory and usage management; a hosted disaster recovery approach to email.

The managed infrastructure capabilities provided by Silverback would be released into the Australian market during a second round of cloud services to be rolled out at a later date, he said. The services will be run initially out of Dell’s US data centres, Boyd said

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