Convergent Computing (CCO) is a global IT consulting firm and one of the first Microsoft Gold Certified Partners for Enterprise Systems. CCO wanted to expand its areas of expertise and develop a new practice area that would help enterprise IT customers deliver business value by optimizing their server infrastructure. The consultancy chose Microsoft cloud services, and now uses the Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1 (SP1) operating system with the Hyper-V virtualization technology, and Microsoft System Center data center solutions to help customers deploy private cloud infrastructures, including automated, end-to-end service management. CCO ensures its own success by helping customers reduce costs—up to U.S.$1.2 million a month in one case, better manage infrastructure costs and control their infrastructure, and focus on delivering business services.
Convergent Computing (CCO) is an IT consultancy that has developed breadth and depth of technology expertise since its founding in 1986. The company is a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner in five competencies, and it helps midsize businesses and large enterprise organizations plan, design, and implement high-value technology solutions.
Many CCO customers have more than 1,500 employees and global operations, as well as multiple data centers. Like other businesses, these companies constantly seek ways to better manage costs through optimizing the data center. “It all comes down to the bottom line,” says Rand Morimoto, President at Convergent Computing. “Companies often struggle to optimize server capacity, achieve scalability and high-availability for business-critical applications, and gain better control of their data centers, but at the heart of all of those issues is saving money and managing costs.”
For instance, CCO saw that several of its customers were decreasing their functional server capacity by adding large numbers of virtual guest sessions to their server environment. However, because customers did not have any insight into server application usage, the virtual guest sessions often went unused. “Right-sizing a server environment is a big challenge that organizations have had over the last couple of years,” explains Morimoto. “It’s not uncommon for companies to think they’re getting value through the model in which they can spin up an unlimited number of virtual servers. What ends up happening is they add hundreds—or thousands—of guest sessions that no one is using. This model inevitably costs companies significant sums of money.”
CCO also saw their customers struggle with scaling their server environments, both for critical business services and for web-based services that potentially serve millions of users. For instance, with Microsoft Exchange Server or Microsoft SharePoint Server, companies often need the ability to quickly add or remove servers as needs change and to ensure high-availability. “In the past, many organizations have approached high-availability of business-critical servers by essentially doubling their infrastructure. That certainly works from a technical perspective and offers redundancy, but it also doubles their costs—it’s not feasible from a business and economic perspective,” says Morimoto.
Similarly, but on a more extreme scale, some CCO customers needed to dramatically increase, or decrease, their server capacity. “If you are an online retailer, for example, you might need to add thousands of servers to your environment in order to handle peak traffic during a holiday shopping season,” says Morimoto. “If you have to manually add physical or virtual servers, this is a time-consuming and expensive task. Then, once your peak traffic season is over, you need to scale back your environment. Without some sort of automation and control over that environment, you end up either overspending on servers and underutilizing them, or you don’t provision enough, and business comes to a halt.”
Building on its 25-year tradition of helping organizations drive business value through technology solutions, the top-tier consulting company wanted to develop a new practice area that would enable customers to optimize their data centers, automate manual processes, and reduce costs. CCO knew that cloud computing was a likely solution. However, it also knew that the public cloud—that is, multiple companies sharing Internet-based resources—was not immediately attractive to its large enterprise customers. “Customers recognize the inherent benefits of cloud computing and most know that they need to have a cloud strategy in place to succeed today,” explains Morimoto. “Those same customers, though, want to retain control over their infrastructure and don’t want to migrate massive infrastructures comprising thousands of servers into the public cloud.”
So, CCO looked for a way to fulfill its customers’ needs and help them reap the benefits of cloud computing, while still giving customers the level of control over their infrastructure that they desired. Solution
In October 2010, Convergent Computing developed its new practice area for customers: implementing private cloud infrastructure solutions. With a private cloud infrastructure, customers get the benefits of cloud computing, such as an elastic infrastructure, but the infrastructure is dedicated to a single organization and remains in that organization’s control. To build private clouds for customers, CCO decided to use Microsoft products and technologies. Specifically, it uses:
“We looked at how to best give customers the benefits of cloud computing. By using Microsoft cloud services, we can deploy a comprehensive, optimized private cloud infrastructure that delivers the control and agility that enterprise customers want,” says Morimoto.
||Cloud computing doesn’t mean that an organization will be able to eliminate all of its infrastructure costs. But, by deploying an optimized infrastructure that can scale to meet demand, the organization can better manage costs overall.
President, Convergent Computing
When CCO started developing its private cloud practice area, it participated in the Windows Server Platform Modernization Program. The program provides Microsoft Partners with Microsoft Solution Accelerators, training, tools, and technical support to help customers move to cloud-based solutions. For example, CCO uses the Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit to assess an organization’s existing infrastructure so that it can model a private cloud infrastructure and estimate cost savings for the customer. “By using the automation tools in Solution Accelerators, we can help our customers plan and deploy a cloud-based infrastructure quickly and cost-effectively,” says Morimoto.
CCO has more than 20 active customers to which it is deploying a private cloud infrastructure built on Microsoft products and technologies, with more than 80 customers in the early stages of exploring a private cloud solution. Across all its customers, CCO has identified three primary scenarios for private cloud deployments: server reduction, extreme scalability, and dynamic scalability.Reduced Server Count, Increased Utilization
For customers that implement too many and/or underutilized virtual servers, CCO is able to plan for capacity and develop a private cloud infrastructure that reduces the number of physical servers and virtual machines while increasing capacity on the remaining servers.
In one example, a CCO customer had a virtualized server environment for its data center operations built primarily on VMware and comprising 5,000 virtual servers. Each host server, however, ran at between 40 and 43 percent capacity. CCO migrated the customer’s environment to Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 and took advantage of the Dynamic Memory feature, which dynamically allocates memory across server loads. By optimizing the memory resources of Hyper-V across servers, CCO reduced the number of servers its customer uses to 3,000 virtual servers (2,500 servers for day-to-day operations and an additional 500 reserve servers) and increased the capacity on each physical host to 90 percent.
CCO implemented System Center Operations Manager to monitor the servers and, to avoid faults, used the Live Migration feature in Hyper-V to automatically migrate virtual machines that exceed 90 percent utilization to a different host server. Plus, with Live Migration, the customer can move guest sessions to a different physical host whenever it needs to—even in the middle of the day—without interruption.
The customer also used Opalis, an automation platform from Microsoft that integrates and orchestrates across IT systems and in conjunction with System Center Virtual Machine Manager, to monitor and manage the state of its virtual environment—including the remaining VMware virtual servers that the company used. “Everything is automated for this customer now,” says Morimoto. “They don’t have to sit there and watch servers—memory is allocated for optimization and sessions are migrated automatically when they need to be.” Extreme Scalability for Web-Based Services
For its customers that require dramatic levels of scalability, CCO deploys a private cloud infrastructure that can quickly be scaled up or down depending on need. For instance, one of its customers is an online gaming company that experiences rapid growth during holidays and when new games gain extreme popularity. That customer wanted to be able to grow its server infrastructure rapidly to keep pace with online traffic.
CCO built a private cloud infrastructure for the customer based on Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 and the Hyper-V technology that typically has a total of 350 servers supporting operations. CCO helped the online gaming company configure System Center Operations Manager to monitor its server environment and then when the servers reach 70 percent utilization, 150 new, load-balanced virtual servers are automatically added. CCO also helped the customer to use the rapid provisioning features in System Center Virtual Machine Manager to build the 150 virtual machines and System Center Configuration Manager to configure and update the server software. Once the new virtual machines are added—a process that takes approximately 20 minutes—the company uses Virtual Machine Manager to load-balance the entire environment. Similarly, during slower traffic periods, if the gaming company sees that its server environment is running well below the 70 percent threshold, it can just as easily scale down its infrastructure. Dynamic Scalability for Business-Critical Services
CCO implements private cloud infrastructures for customers that require scalability for critical business applications, but to a lesser extreme than the scalability required by many companies that offer web-based services. “Some customers need an optimized infrastructure where they can scale one server at a time to alleviate performance and capacity issues, or to provide self-service IT capabilities,” says Morimoto. “It’s the same process and we use the same technologies that we do for a massive scaling effort, but on a smaller scale and to accommodate a different need.”
For instance, in one example, CCO helped a customer deploy a private cloud infrastructure that automatically provisioned an additional server running Microsoft Exchange Server when the company’s existing Exchange Server neared capacity.
||With a private cloud infrastructure, CCO can take their IT budget, optimize their infrastructure, make them more agile, reduce their costs by up to 40 percent, and then use that cost savings to complete new IT projects with high business value.
President, Convergent Computing
In another instance, CCO implemented Virtual Machine Manager 2008 Self-Service Portal 2.0, an extensible solution that dynamically pools, allocates, and manages data center resources. That customer now uses the Self-Service Portal to let business groups self-provision test servers when they are developing new applications. “Instead of going to the IT department and requesting a new server, the customer uses Self-Service Portal to give employees ready access to the tools they need to meet their IT needs. That’s something that a private cloud infrastructure delivers that no other model can,” explains Morimoto.Benefits
Convergent Computing transforms customers’ IT infrastructures with Microsoft cloud services by using Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1, Hyper-V, and System Center data center solutions. As a consulting company, CCO depends on its ability to deliver measurable business value to its customers as a way to ensure its success and longevity. By extending its service offerings to include a private cloud infrastructure practice, CCO can help its customers reduce the number of servers they need and maximize server capacity, thereby dramatically cutting costs. Customers can also manage their server environments with greater scalability, helping to better manage remaining infrastructure costs, and have comprehensive control of their cloud environment, even across heterogeneous platforms and hypervisors. In addition, chief information officers (CIOs) are poised to deliver critical services to the business—even in an economic climate of shrinking IT budgets.
Contributes to Long-Term Success
CCO extended its service offerings and built a sustainable new practice area, using Microsoft products and technologies to help customers develop private cloud infrastructures. By evolving its practice and embracing cloud computing, the Microsoft Gold Certified Partner is adapting to customers’ changing technology needs, thereby ensuring its ongoing success. “As a consulting firm, there is always the challenge of remaining viable in the marketplace,” says Morimoto. “There is a misperception that every company is moving to the cloud and that consultants may become obsolete, but there’s tremendous opportunity for us to embrace the shift to cloud computing, help our customers become more efficient, and help them to develop their cloud strategy if that’s the direction they’re going. That’s where you see the long-term success.”
Reduces Costs—$1.2 Million a Month for One Customer
By offering Microsoft cloud services to its customers, CCO helps those customers reduce costs by decreasing the number of servers required in the infrastructure. In one case, CCO reduced the number of servers in the customer’s environment by 2,000—from 5,000 to 3,000. “We increased the utilization of their servers and were able to cut their server infrastructure by almost half,” says Morimoto. “As a result, that customer is saving U.S.$1.2 million each month. That savings comes from costs associated with software licensing, hardware, electrical, cooling, heating, management and maintenance, and the space required to house all of the servers. For instance, that customer gained 11,000 square feet of office space from its data center, which saved it from having to go out and rent or buy another facility to accommodate new employees for the growing business.”
Improves Ability to Manage Costs
By moving applications to a Microsoft-based cloud solution, customers can not only reduce costs, but can more easily manage what costs do remain. “Cloud computing doesn’t mean that an organization will be able to eliminate all of its infrastructure costs,” explains Morimoto. “But, by deploying an optimized infrastructure that can scale to meet demand, the organization can better manage costs overall.”
For instance, in the case of an online retailer or an online gaming company, either company might need dramatically increased server capacity during a holiday promotion or if a game gains rapid popularity in order to meet traffic demands. “The need for additional servers doesn’t go away, but with a private cloud solution based on Microsoft products, customers can quickly add servers and then scale back as necessary,” says Morimoto. “With an optimized cloud environment, customers aren’t paying for underutilized servers.”
In addition, customer can manage costs by taking advantage of their existing Microsoft license agreements when deploying a private cloud infrastructure. “In most cases, our customers have already invested in Microsoft software licensing agreements and have Windows Server, Hyper-V, and System Center products in their environment to some extent and can deploy a private cloud without much additional investment in technology,” says Morimoto.Delivers Comprehensive Infrastructure Control
Customers with heterogeneous server environments, including those with a mix of server operating systems and multiple hypervisors, have comprehensive management of their infrastructure, thanks to interoperability among Microsoft products in a private cloud. For instance, customers who have VMware and Hyper-V can manage both hypervisors with System Center Virtual Machine Manager, and customers with UNIX and Linux can manage those servers with System Center Configuration Manager and System Center Operations Manager.
The ability to manage across multiple platforms is critical to large enterprise organizations. “Most of our larger customers run a mix of Windows, VMware, UNIX, and Linux across their environments and are hesitant to move to a private cloud because they think they need multiple management solutions,” explains Morimoto. “They’re surprised—and thrilled—when we show them that they can adopt a cloud strategy and manage across platforms and hypervisors with System Center, Windows Server 2008, and Hyper-V.” Improves Agility and Business Continuity for Customers
As a result of deploying a private cloud based on Microsoft products and technologies, customers’ IT departments are more agile, can deliver services to the business more quickly, and contribute to the continued success of the business. From provisioning test servers to fulfill a departmental request or scaling up hundreds of servers to meet unexpected server demand, to load-balancing workloads for maximized server capacity, CCO customers now have automated end-to-end service management. This allows IT departments to focus on delivering critical business services, rather than focus on simply managing a virtual environment.
In addition, with an infrastructure that takes full advantage of automation, customers’ IT departments can use limited budget funds for more strategic projects. “We have customers that come to us that have flat IT budgets, but a dozen new projects for the business that they have to squeeze in,” explains Morimoto. “With a private cloud infrastructure, CCO can take their IT budget, optimize their infrastructure, make them more agile, reduce their costs by up to 40 percent, and then use that cost savings to complete new IT projects with high business value. That’s the ultimate benefit for any CIO—an IT infrastructure that contributes to the continued success of the organization.” Microsoft Cloud Power
Microsoft offers a complete set of cloud-based solutions to meet business needs, including solutions for advertising; communications (email, meetings); collaboration (document storage, sharing, workflow); business applications (customer resource management, business productivity); data storage and management; and infrastructure services. In addition, customers can take advantage of an entire ecosystem of solution providers and Microsoft partners.
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