A slow start for virtualisation

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Fear and indifference are retarding the spread of virtualisation technology in Australian SMEs, despite glowing reviews.

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Ask Paul Harapin, the Australia and NZ managing director of VMWare, how many SMEs should buy his virtualisation package Infrastructure 3, and he’ll tell you, “all of them”.

Ask two of his most recent customers, and they will agree that ‘bare metal’ virtualisation is the best thing to hit the data centre since the Ethernet cable.

The first such customer, Versacold, was wanting to save space, consolidate servers and move them into a co-location centre; a complete technology refresh - the ideal scenario for virtualisation.

The data centre contained around 30 servers “which weren’t doing much”, says Geoff Mills, senior WAN administrator of Versacold, a refrigerated logistics company.

The 30 servers were replaced with eight blades in two chassis and a small SAN, all supplied by HP and the installation performed by VMWare integrator Oriel.
Four of the blades are VMWare servers running seven virtual machines (VMs), and after 11 days of operation there have been no major hiccups. “It’s been perfect so far,” says Mills, who had run a test environment for a month beforehand.

The only servers that weren’t virtualised were those running Citrix, which have a higher CPU utilisation. Concerns about performance came second to uncertainty over how well virtualisation would work, says Mills.

“For me and my boss it was a comfort factor. I had used VMWare for a workstation, but that’s a long way from the enterprise edition.”

The flawless transition to virtualisation and the average CPU usage on the VMWare servers (3 percent on the day of the interview) had provided reassurance on both fronts.

“Looking at the stats now, I’d say it would be safe putting [the Citrix servers] on VMWare and have three VMs on the one box,” says Mills.

The second customer, Darwin City Council, also claims to be another satisfied customer. The aim of its project was to contain capital costs after experiencing rapid growth, says Richard Iap, the Council’s IT manager.

The original set-up of 14 servers was virtualised onto one new server, which is only running at 50 percent capacity. A second server provides extra headroom for DR using VMWare’s VMotion, a program that automatically moves VMs between servers in the case of hardware failure.

Iap had also tested VMWare’s Workstation product and had studied white papers and tech-write ups before committing. Despite some familiarity with the technology, and replicating the production environment on a test server, the council still ran into one serious hurdle.

The virtualisation software proved to be incompatible with an HP tape backup system, and the robotics didn’t show up in the VM session. An Intel consultant guiding the installation was able to work out a solution.

The council spent around $80,000 in hardware and software but expects to bring in $160,000 in savings over three years. However, Iap expects those savings to be much higher based on his observations over the first four months.
Dell and Intel donated services to set up the installation, which Iap estimates saved $20,000.

Virtualisation is “definitely a space that small businesses can start looking at,” says Iap, though he cautions them to keep an eye on software costs involved in the migration and development phases.

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