Expanding Virtualization to Achieve Data Center Optimization

Data center optimization efforts by the City of Chesapeake, VA., and Stanly County, N.C., have achieved efficiencies and cost reductions

An ongoing data center optimization effort by the City of Chesapeake, Va., has generated significant cost and efficiency gains, though IT officials maintain ‘the best is still yet to come,’ as the city expands virtualization efforts started in server operations to desktop and storage environments as well.

Facing physical data center space limitations and hefty energy costs, the city of Chesapeake, in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia (3,000 employees serve the needs of 253,000 constituents) decided three years ago to deploy virtual servers to replace the ten racks of 135 physical servers that resided in its data center. Energy costs were a deciding factor as the electrical bill had grown to $6,000 per month, according to network specialist, Rob Walling.

Meanwhile, a separate decision to “migrate mainframe applications to an Intel/Windows platform was expected to require an even greater investment in physical servers,” said Chesapeake CIO Peter Wallace.

To address both energy and costs concerns, the city selected VMware, primarily due to the maturity of its software suite and ease of administration/use. Another important decision, rather than hiring outside consultants to implement virtualization, two employees were sent for specialized virtualization deployment training, which saved an estimated $200,000 in implementation costs. With six months of course work under their belts, the city successfully implemented a VMware-based virtualization environment. Using a separate suite of utilities, the city virtualized 90% of its servers in the first six months. The rest were used primarily for enterprise application systems such as Peoplesoft, which took additional time and effort to migrate to a virtualized platform, Wallace explained.

In the years since, the city has expanded its use of virtualization clusters from four blade servers to eight. In a separate public safety building, the city added a cluster with four blade servers, used primarily for disaster recovery services. Because Chesapeake previously didn’t have an adequate backup/recovery solution, a new emergency operations center is currently being built to duplicate the VMware environment and provide much needed redundancy for continuity of operations (COOP).

Wallace considers virtualization a first step in the migration to cloud computing. In fact, Chesapeake has already started testing a hybrid cloud service from Microsoft. A few of the city’s employees can already access email remotely using the Microsoft cloud service, he explained. “Cloud services will play a greater role for the city as the concept matures,” he explained.

Meanwhile, the city has started investing in centralized storage virtualization solutions to support both disaster recovery operations, as well as greater availability for all users.

In total, Chesapeake’s CIO said the city has gained:
• Energy cost savings of $3,000 a month (50%)
• Annual hardware cost savings of $200,000
• A reduced physical server count from 135 to 20

In addition to exploring cloud-based services and expanding virtual storage, the city is also currently evaluating client-based virtualization. However, officials said this effort will require a great deal of planning. “The only way to justify the cost of migrating to client virtualization is to clearly delineate the total costs of ownership for both thin and fat clients,” Walling explained.

An important first step in Chesapeake includes converting 12 laptop computers in their computing training lab to thin clients, for proof of concept testing. “Once we have results, we should be able to lay out a road map for implementation,” Wallace said, though only about 5% of desktop systems are expected to be migrated to virtual platforms this year.

Ultimately, city officials hope to extend the life of current desktop computers from four years, to up to 10 years, which will generate substantial cost savings for the city.

Training the city’s personnel was an important catalyst for change in Chesapeake. Wallace’s advice to public sector organizations is to completely capture the current cost of doing business. “It’s impossible to successfully propose migration to a new computing environment, or show a credible return on investment, without understanding the accurate cost of doing business today,” he said.

This step has created the added byproduct of building trust with the city’s financial managers. Finally, to avoid projects that can get mired in political battles, Walling noted, “It helps to have a CIO with a big bat.”

Leveraging Virtualization to Boost Disaster Recovery and Consolidate Servers

Stanly County, located east of Charlotte, in rural central North Carolina, is home to about 60,000 people, served by 2,400 county employees, with an IT staff of two.

The county’s decision to migrate to virtual servers a few years ago was driven by a lack of adequate disaster recovery, both for general IT operations and especially in critical 911 emergency services, which were housed in the basement of the county courthouse. Nearly any disaster interrupted emergency communications, from fire or flood to bomb threats. The event of a bomb threat for example, led to dangerous situations in which some emergency dispatch personnel were forced to remain at their desks while all others were evacuated from the courthouse.

Constant worries about disaster recovery led IT director Chad Coble to invest in server virtualization, first for 911 services, followed by a second deployment, currently under way to migrate general IT operations from physical to virtual servers. “Virtualization allows us to provide the protection our citizens deserve by ensuring our 911 operations are up and running during all emergencies,” he said.

Stanly County invested in a VMware server virtualization implementation, using Dell PC servers and a Hewlett-Packard storage area network (SAN) to provide the redundancy, backup and recovery services the county desperately needed. The current virtualization deployment will migrate general IT applications for file, print and email services, Coble explained.

By virtualizing servers, Stanly County was able to:
• Create a fully redundant data center to vastly improve continuity of operations;
• Ensure improved availability of emergency 911 services for citizens;
• Condense seven physical servers down to three.

Coble estimates IT energy savings could reach $3,000 per year. And he reports ‘greatly improved ease of manageability’ using virtual servers. “The ability to quickly launch a new server in minutes, configured for particular needs as they arise, is a great improvement,” he said.

Monitoring tools available for virtual server environments also help his small staff keep track of performance, and receive email alerts when anomalies arise. Coble recommends public sector organizations consider coupling virtual servers with enterprise-level storage area networks. “Higher-level SANS provide the functionality and automation organizations can really use to reduce IT support costs,” he said.

Also, Coble advised that proper planning and training are critically important to a successful virtualization deployment. “From the outset, you must ensure all network devices, including switches, are capable of handling virtualized management and traffic prioritization features,” he explained.

While Stanly County has successfully implemented server and storage virtualization across both general IT and emergency 911 services, an investment in client virtualization is still awaiting a final deployment decision. “We tend to stay firmly behind the cutting edge, primarily to avoid getting bloody,” he said.

About the Author

Barbara DePompa is a freelance writer for 1105 Government Information Group’s Content Solutions unit. This Snapshot report was commissioned by the Content Solutions unit, an independent editorial arm of 1105 Government Information Group. Specific topics are chosen in response to interest from the vendor community; however, sponsors are not guaranteed content contribution or review of content before publication. For more information about 1105 Government Information Group Content Solutions, please email us at GIGCustomMedia@1105govinfo.com