The City of Milwaukee had a familiar problem: finding a better, less expensive way to manage a growing IT infrastructure. And it tried a familiar solution: virtualizing its servers on VMware. But the city found VMware tough to manage and expensive to license. So it adopted a Microsoft virtualization solution that includes the Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system with Service Pack 1 and Hyper-V virtualization technology, Microsoft System Center management products, and the Microsoft Virtual Desktop Infrastructure Standard Suite. Now, the city’s IT staff is 50 percent more productive, enabling it to handle a growing infrastructure without additional staff. Licensing costs are less, stretching scarce budget dollars. And the servers operate better—for example, uptime is up by 10 percent, to the favorable notice of internal users and developers.Situation
Tough times have forced Milwaukee, long known as the beer-brewing capital of the United States, to change. Healthcare, finance, and manufacturing are now far more important than breweries to the city’s present—and future. Likewise, the government that manages the city has had to change, as well. Take its technology infrastructure; increasing demands on its servers forced the city to look for ways to do more with less. The city needed a new management strategy for its technology, one that would meet current demands—and serve the city well into the future.
The problem was finding that new approach.
A few years ago, the city’s central technology division was responsible for about 60 hardware servers that ran everything from municipal finances to citizen services. As the city found technology solutions to more of its challenges—for example, parking meters that accept credit cards and have intelligent connections to other meters throughout the city—the population of servers to support those solutions continued to grow. It experienced another growth spurt as more of the servers in the city’s traditionally decentralized infrastructure were moved to the central IT division. But while the size of the server population rose to about 120, the size of the five-person IT staff stayed the same. Something had to give.
||We’ve gone from no management utilities with VMware to a comprehensive management solution with Hyper-V that mostly runs the environment by itself. We’re at least 50 percent more productive.
Project Leader, IT and Management Division, City of Milwaukee
The city put most of its computers on a six-year replacement cycle. That helped with budgets, but did nothing to reduce the maintenance workload—and may have added to it. Around 2006, the city turned to virtualization as a potential solution. Running several virtual machines on a single physical host promised to reduce the costs of hardware replacement and the maintenance of physical hosts. Because many of the physical servers were underutilized—the result of departments that bought more memory, processor power, and storage than they needed—virtualization would boost utilization rates, as well.
The city chose VMware ESX for its virtualization middleware. Commercial virtualization technology was in its early days. VMware was a common choice. Milwaukee used VMware for about four years. It worked well according to Pao Vang, Project Leader in the IT and Management Division of the City of Milwaukee. But there were issues. The costs of licensing VMware were high, in the city’s view, requiring up-front licenses for each virtual machine, as well as maintenance charges for each virtual machine every year.
Nor did the server virtualization address other management challenges, such as repeatedly reconfiguring centralized PCs—such as those in the training center—to optimize them for each of the departments that used them in turn.
Another of the city’s concerns was its ability to manage the virtual environment itself—particularly as it contemplated a continual expansion of that environment. Comprehensive, interoperable management tools would make the environment easier to manage, reducing the strain on the IT staff and its budget. But such tools weren’t readily available for VMware, and, when they were, they increased licensing costs.
The City of Milwaukee was ready to consider an alternative.Solution
Fortunately, that alternative was very close at hand. Since the city had first considered and selected a virtualization technology, Microsoft “had made a tremendous investment in its virtualization technology, Hyper-V,” says Vang. “It was clear that Microsoft was serious about this market.”
That was fine with Vang and his colleagues, because the city already used Microsoft software for systems management, server clustering, and email, running them on the Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008 operating systems. “We always give Microsoft the opportunity to present their products to us because they’ve been reliable and have offered good system solutions,” says Vang.
So, the city considered the adoption of Hyper-V virtualization technology, a feature of Windows Server 2008 R2 with Service Pack 1 (SP1). Vang and his colleagues particularly liked the breadth of capabilities in the software, the range of management tools available for it, and licensing terms that were much lower than what they’d been paying for VMware.
Multi-Operating System Support
The Microsoft virtualization solution supported multiple operating systems—including Microsoft and non-Microsoft systems, such as Linux—which was important to the city given the variety of operating systems in its infrastructure, a legacy of the decentralized way in which that infrastructure had grown. Some departments, for example, ran on older versions of Windows Server, while the city’s public website ran on Linux.
||The management savings we see with Hyper-V and System Center are tremendous.
Project Leader, IT and Management Division, City of Milwaukee
Following their initial, favorable impression of Hyper-V, Vang and his colleagues conducted an almost year-long pilot test, in which they closely monitored the software’s cross-platform support, as well as its functionality and supportability. At the end of the test, the city adopted Hyper-V.
Microsoft virtualization now supports about 60 virtual machines running on a pair of three-node failover clusters. Those six physical hosts have Windows Server 2008 R2 with SP1 and Hyper-V running on Dell dual quad-core PowerEdge R Series servers. “We use Dell because they’re reliable, Dell’s support really stands out, and the price is right,” says Vang.
A Breadth of Features
The city uses Hyper-V features such as Live Migration, which provides seamless migration of virtual machines between physical hosts within a cluster. The city uses Live Migration to increase availability and to manage scheduled maintenance without affecting users. It also uses Hyper-V features to facilitate the migration from VMware. Physical-to-virtual and virtual-to-virtual conversions are both used in the move from physical servers and VMware to Hyper-V.
One of the newest Hyper-V features used by the city is Dynamic Memory. With Dynamic Memory, the city monitors memory use on virtual machines, so it can use memory more effectively, boost the consistency of performance on virtual machines, and increase the number of virtual machines on a single host.
With the city’s server population continuing to expand, Vang expects the environment to grow by the end of 2012 to about 20 physical hosts supporting some 200 virtual machines. At that point, the environment, including Linux and older versions of Windows Server, will be virtualized on current Windows Server and Hyper-V technology; VMware is being phased out.
Management Tools Crucial
A crucial part of the city’s virtualized environment and, in turn, of its decision to adopt Microsoft virtualization, is its use of Microsoft System Center products for IT management, including the comprehensive virtualization management tool Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2 SP1. The city uses Virtual Machine Manager to access and implement the Hyper-V features that power its new virtualization environment. The city even uses Virtual Machine Manager as a transition management tool for its VMware machines, as it continues to migrate those machines to Hyper-V.
The city plans to use additional System Center products—including Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2, Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 R3, and Microsoft System Center Data Protection Manager 2010—to manage its virtual environment. By using System Center products, Vang and his colleagues monitor system performance, receive and act on alerts to potential problems, and manage backups. They plan to expand their use of these tools, for example, to automate the distribution and implementation of updates.
Extends to the DesktopBenefits
The city’s use of Microsoft virtualization also extends to the desktop. It has deployed Microsoft Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) Standard Suite. The city centralizes and virtualizes Windows 7 desktop images on the Hyper-V virtual machines and delivers just the keyboard, video, and mouse to physical desktops. The VDI technology is used for custom line-of-business training applications that run on about a dozen PCs located in a city training center. The virtual desktop images can be optimized for each application, with images being quickly replaced as the PCs host first one training class and then another. This eliminates the problem of needing to manually reconfigure the PCs between classes to optimize them for each training application just before it’s used.
The City of Milwaukee is using a comprehensive Microsoft virtualization solution to boost IT productivity, reduce licensing costs, and increase availability.
Boosts IT Productivity by 50 Percent
“The management savings we see with Hyper-V and System Center are tremendous,” says Vang. “We’ve gone from no management utilities with VMware to a comprehensive management solution with Hyper-V that mostly runs the environment by itself. We’re at least 50 percent more productive.”
||Our users and developers both tell us that the system is faster, more responsive, more reliable. The difference is Hyper-V.
Project Leader, IT and Management Division, City of Milwaukee
Some of that reduction in management time comes from Hyper-V itself, a fully integrated part of the Windows Server 2008 operating system with which IT staffers are already familiar. “If you already know Windows Server, there’s not much more to know to use Hyper-V,” Vang says. “We make fuller use of it because everyone is comfortable with it and can use it easily.”
And some of the difference in management time comes from having automated tools for the virtualized environment that simply weren’t available to the city before. Technicians use a single Microsoft System Center management console to monitor Windows Server 2008 R2 with SP1, legacy systems, and the Linux machines, regardless of whether they’re virtualized on Hyper-V or VMware. This eliminates the time and expense of running several management systems—and provides a single at-a-glance view of the entire environment. Vang says that rebooting machines, bringing up new machines, and migrating machines between nodes are all much faster than before—“surprisingly fast,” he says.
All of these differences make the five-person IT staff far more productive than they could be otherwise, so the city can support its increased server population without additional staff.
Reduces Costs and Licensing Complexity
The increased productivity that the city sees with the Microsoft virtualization solution also saves it money. The two-and-a-half full-time equivalent staff members that the city would need without its new solution would cost about U.S.$150,000 annually—spending that the city can defer until its growing environment requires it.
The City of Milwaukee also saves with Microsoft licensing. For example, maintenance costs are lower. Through Microsoft Software Assurance, which is part of Microsoft Volume Licensing, the city’s three-year licenses for Windows Server 2008 include version updates at no additional charge.
In contrast, the city has paid an additional per-year maintenance fee for VMware. Over a three-year licensing term, this has doubled the initial cost of VMware for the city, according to Vang. He also points to what he sees as less complex licensing terms with Microsoft, making it both faster and easier to make and implement decisions related to the city’s use of Hyper-V.
More savings come from the Microsoft licensing plan for System Center products. The SMSD license provides low-cost access to System Center functionality, compared to the cost of acquiring third-party tools for VMware.
“We’re getting more with Microsoft and Hyper-V than we got with VMware—and we’re saving money at the same time,” says Vang.
Increases Availability by 10 Percent
The city gets more functionality at lower cost with Hyper-V. It would be nice if it also got better performance. It does. Milwaukee manages its servers more effectively with Hyper-V—increasing the reliability of those servers. Uptime has increased from 90 percent to 99 percent with the move to Hyper-V because there are fewer instances of unscheduled maintenance and because, when those instances do occur, they’re resolved more quickly.
Vang and his colleagues are now also able to respond more quickly to requests—for example, to add memory to a development machine. That process can be managed without having to take the virtual machine out of service, perform the operation, and bring the virtual machine back online.
“Our users and developers both tell us that the system is faster, more responsive, more reliable,” says Vang. “The difference is Hyper-V.”Microsoft Cloud Power
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