Virtual data center brings efficiency to Kronos

Software vendor taps VMware for server virtualization project

A couple years ago Kronos suffered from a serious case of server sprawl. The workforce management software vendor had built up a data center with 330 servers that were being utilized at a rate of only 10 percent. In July of 2006, Kronos acquired a vendor called Unicru, a move that threatened to add another 80 servers.

"We weren't getting any ROI from our hardware," says Michael Moran, a senior IT manager. "We had significant challenges with power, cooling and real estate costs. The question was do we want to build a new data center or find a technology that can cut costs."

Kronos looked at a physical consolidation through blade servers, but rejected that approach because using blade servers without virtualization wouldn't significantly improve utilization rates or lessen power requirements. Kronos also considered application consolidation, but that would have raised the risk of application conflicts, resource contention, and database version incompatibility.

So Kronos settled on server virtualization as its primary consolidation method, Moran said Thursday while giving a presentation at VMware's Virtualization Forum. With a backbone of Dell PowerEdge 6950 and PowerEdge 6850 servers and EMC SAN storage, Kronos has undergone an ambitious virtualization project that reduced power costs by 20 percent and potentially avoided US$1.2 million in costs for new servers.

Using an automated physical-to-virtual conversion tool from PlateSpin, Kronos was able to convert 125 physical machines to virtual systems within four months without adding new staff, and had done so with 300 physical servers by August 2007. While those 300 boxes were moved out of the data center, Kronos did bring in 50 new servers to host VMs. With the ability to pack 16 virtual machines onto a single physical host, Kronos consolidated 25 racks into nine. "That is great because we are able to really get that return on investment," Moran says.

Because Kronos is no longer tied down to the one-application-per-server model, the company was able to add 200 workloads without purchasing new equipment, a cost avoidance that Moran estimates at US$1.2 million.

On VMware servers, Kronos is running several hundred SharePoint sites, file and print servers, domain controllers, Red Hat with Oracle databases, Citrix servers with published applications, Microsoft SQL databases and various Kronos-built applications.

Besides the ability to do more with less, Kronos has reduced deployment time of new applications from a month to a day. VMotion, the VMware technology that moves running virtual machines from one server to another instantly, is also helping Kronos achieve higher uptime.

Page Break

That's not to say there are no pitfalls and challenges with virtualization. Because virtualization puts a strain on shared storage, Moran says it's crucial to have a thorough understanding of storage needs and the necessary management skills before embarking on a virtualization project. It's important to identify potential storage bottlenecks and, to avoid confusion, set up a standard naming convention for data stores.

"When you're setting up storage for virtual environments, don't call your data store 'Mike's data store' or "Dan's data store'," Moran says.

Kronos was also careful to avoid virtual server sprawl, which can eliminate many of the cost savings and benefits of virtualization. The IT team set up an Excel spreadsheet to track usage and set up chargeback mechanisms so users would essentially be billed for usage. "Everyone wanted a virtual machine," Moran says.