4-page Case Study
Posted: 3/6/2012
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City of Virginia Beach City Cuts Costs, Gains High-Availability and Disaster-Recovery Capabilities

To maximize the value of future technology investments, the City of Virginia Beach needed to further strengthen its data management infrastructure. The city’s Communications and Information Technology Department needed high-availability and disaster-recovery capabilities to support mission-critical applications and a transition to a voice over IP phone system. Very satisfied with Microsoft technologies used throughout all of the city’s agencies, Virginia Beach deployed Microsoft SQL Server 2012. The new solution’s high availability cuts maintenance downtime and improves customer satisfaction. Read-only secondary databases support reporting without affecting the performance of primary databases. The solution saves hundreds of thousands of dollars compared to Oracle and helps Virginia Beach avoid as much as U.S.$50,000 in annual maintenance costs.

Situation

The City of Virginia Beach is located on Virginia’s Atlantic coast, near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. The city is not part of a county or other larger jurisdiction, so its government is directly responsible for providing all services to its residents. The Virginia Beach Communications and Technology (ComIT) department, which provides information technology services to all of the city’s other departments and agencies, includes a five-member Database Administration Group. This team is responsible for managing the more than 400 databases used for all of the city’s various applications, including critical public-safety applications and the city’s website, where citizens can transact business such as making tax payments or consulting property assessments.

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* Once we’ve achieved geographic redundancy with Microsoft SQL Server 2012 AlwaysOn, we can avoid those power costs, saving $25,000 to $50,000 per year. *

Mick Vollmer
Technology Architect
City of Virginia Beach

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To optimize the value of future technology deployments and application upgrades, Virginia Beach wanted to first improve its data management infrastructure. In particular, ComIT was interested in achieving high-availability and disaster-recovery capabilities.

“Previously, the only high-availability solution we had protected the city website. But even that solution only protected the customer-facing portal, not the many services and applications that provided its functionality,” says Elena Balitsky, Team Leader of the Virginia Beach Database Administration Group.

Because the city did not have another data center to which it could fail over its databases, performing even routine maintenance required database downtime. ComIT engineers had to negotiate maintenance windows that would cause the least interruption for applications used by various city agencies and, as a result, sometimes had to wait weeks to implement software patches. These maintenance windows also made certain website services unavailable. Balitsky says, “When website services become unavailable, citizens become frustrated and might think that the government is not doing its job.”

Another reason the city wanted a high-availability solution for data was to support a transition from analog telephone service to voice over IP (VoIP). “Our plan is to deploy Microsoft Lync Server 2010 and use that for VoIP communications, but obviously we can’t take that step if we cannot guarantee high availability for the Lync Server 2010 database servers,” says Mick Vollmer, a Technology Architect for Virginia Beach.

The database team also could not always provide access to application databases for agencies that wanted to perform custom analysis. “The structure of some of the off-the-shelf applications that some agencies use does not always meet all of the reporting needs that a certain agency might have,” says Ed Feeney, the Head of the Virginia Beach Applications Support Division. “But the only way we could provide them access to the back-end data was by building custom solutions, and, as a city government, we did not have room in the budget to do that.”

Virginia Beach began looking for a new data-management solution with high-availability and disaster-recovery features. The new solution also needed to support easy access to data for custom querying.

Solution

The City of Virginia Beach decided to deploy a solution based on Microsoft SQL Server 2012 data management software. “Microsoft technologies offer maximum flexibility, easy management, and an integrated, user-friendly environment,” says Balitsky. “With Microsoft, we can also get all the same functionality offered by other vendors at an unbeatable price.”

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* With the SQL Server 2012 solution, we can simply switch to the databases in our other data center without affecting availability and apply the patch immediately, instead of waiting for the least disruptive maintenance window. *

Elena Balitsky
Team Leader, Database Administration Group
City of Virginia Beach

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Balitsky explains that she looked past Oracle, even though she had once worked as an Oracle consultant. “Previously, one of our departments deployed Oracle Real Application Clusters for a mission-critical application and contracted with external Oracle consultants for support,” she says. However, the Oracle Real Application Clusters (RAC) solution was costly and struggled to meet requirements, so the department ultimately upgraded the application and installed it on Microsoft SQL Server 2008. “Based on our experience with Oracle RAC, we knew that a Microsoft high-availability solution would be much easier to implement, simpler to support, and less expensive.”

The first phase of the deployment, which will go into production in March 2012, will host databases for two applications:

Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2, which Virginia Beach uses to monitor more than 500 servers, many of them supporting mission-critical services.

TowTracker, an in-house .NET application that tracks the towing of illegally parked automobiles by city and private towing services.

The city considers both applications to be mission critical. “We have very few engineers to support over 500 servers,” says Rob Atwood, the Head of the Systems Support Division for Virginia Beach. “Without System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2, we would quickly lose the ability to efficiently identify and correct problems with the applications that are the backbone of all of the city’s services. And if TowTracker goes down, it is impossible to determine whether vehicles reported missing by citizens have been towed or stolen. As a result, towing contractors lose business and money, and the police department cannot access an important investigative tool.”

To achieve high availability for these applications’ databases, Virginia Beach will take advantage of SQL Server 2012 AlwaysOn, an enhancement of database mirroring that supports as many as four secondary databases, including two synchronous secondaries. To avoid competition for resources between the two applications, Virginia Beach will organize each into its own AlwaysOn availability group, a logical collection of databases that automatically fail over even across subnets. The solution will replicate each database on a server in another location, providing database, machine, and data-center redundancy.

After deployment, when the database team needs to perform maintenance, they will be able to fail over from the primary to the secondary databases without interrupting application availability. Virginia Beach can also use these read-only secondary databases to improve resource utilization, reduce idle hardware, perform backups, and provide data access for near-real-time reporting to the agencies that use these applications—all without making processing demands on the primary database.

In a later phase of the deployment, Virginia Beach will implement Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Reporting Services, which offers self-service reporting and report authoring tools. It also simplifies the management of the reporting environment by IT workers without hampering the creativity of business users. “With past versions of SQL Server Reporting Services, we would have had to choose between combining it with our Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 portal or deploying it in stand-alone form,” says Feeney. “We’re really excited that SQL Server 2012 Reporting Services supports installing it in both modes and on the same hardware.”

For its test and development environments, Virginia Beach uses a private cloud based on Hyper-V technology and Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 data. The private cloud uses a storage area network (SAN) with iSCSI connectivity. Hyper-V clustering maintains high availability for the web, database, and applications systems running in the private cloud. The city uses Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 R3 and Microsoft System Center Data Protection Manager 2010 to manage, monitor, and protect its private-cloud test and development environments.

The SQL Server 2012 solution, which runs on physical servers, is architected to provide 99.99 percent availability. The application databases hold about 22 gigabytes of data, and the largest table contains 12-million rows. The two applications that the new solution supports are used by about 1,500 engineers, police officers, towing contractors, and citizens, about 500 of whom are concurrent users of online transaction processing (OLTP). The solution is deployed on HP ProLiant BL460c blade servers.

Benefits

By deploying SQL Server 2012, the City of Virginia Beach will be able to eliminate planned database downtime, reducing maintenance disruptions. Once the solution is rolled out for all of the city’s critical applications, citizens will experience fewer service outages on the city website. In addition, the database administration team will be able to provide access to the solution’s read-only secondary databases for agencies that wish to perform custom analysis. Finally, SQL Server 2012 will strengthen the city’s data management infrastructure, helping it take maximum advantage of new applications, application upgrades, and new tools such as VoIP.

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* With SQL Server 2012, we can go to our vendors with a platform that can provide true high availability, and this will position us well to take the best possible steps forward for the City of Virginia Beach. *

Mick Vollmer
Technology Architect
City of Virginia Beach

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Cuts Annual Maintenance Costs by About U.S.$50,000

With the new solution’s high-availability capabilities, it is easier for Virginia Beach to perform routine maintenance without disrupting users. “Because we couldn’t fail over databases in our previous solution, we had to delay implementing critical software patches until we could negotiate downtime with all of the affected departments,” says Balitsky. “With the SQL Server 2012 solution, we can simply switch to the databases in our other data center without affecting availability and apply the patch immediately, instead of waiting for the least disruptive maintenance window.”

Once Virginia Beach extends the new solution to all mission-critical applications, the city will be able to avoid significant maintenance-related costs. “For some particularly complex maintenance tasks, we must interrupt the power to our data center,” says Atwood.

Vollmer explains the consequences: “In the past, since we could not fail over the databases or applications to another location, we had to use generators to keep critical systems available at a cost of $25,000 for each 12-hour window. Once we’ve achieved geographic redundancy with Microsoft SQL Server 2012 AlwaysOn, we can avoid those power costs, saving $25,000 to $50,000 per year.”

By preserving availability during maintenance tasks, the Microsoft solution will free the city’s relatively small team of database administrators to concentrate on more valuable work. “A huge part of the value of the new solution is that it will help us eliminate maintenance obstacles and backlogs. This will really make it easier for my team of five database administrators to maintain our 50 database servers,” says Balitsky. “As a result of the time we will save because of SQL Server 2012 high availability, my team can instead spend time learning new technologies, creating scripts, automating business processes, and many other tasks that they just haven’t had time for before.”

Saves Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars over Oracle Solution

By choosing a Microsoft high-availability solution, Virginia Beach incurred substantially lower costs than it would have with a high-availability solution from Oracle. “The licensing cost for SQL Server 2012 for our particular configuration is about $120,000 less than for an Oracle RAC solution,” says Balitsky. “In addition, the training and salary costs for Oracle database administrators are about 40 percent higher than for Microsoft database administrators, so the Microsoft solution is saving us another $80,000 to $100,000 annually.”

Finally, by relying on Microsoft technologies throughout its virtualized environment, Virginia Beach achieves much simpler and lower-cost administration. “With Oracle RAC, we would have needed to purchase a third-party backup solution and separate Oracle monitoring tools with substantial additional licensing cost,” says Balitsky. “In contrast, Microsoft technology gives us economy of scale by offering the capability to use the same tools across many different systems. The stronger integration and interoperability of Microsoft tools cut staff training costs, minimize upgrade-compatibility problems, reduce maintenance costs, and improve customer service.”

Improves Customer Satisfaction

Once it is fully deployed for all critical Virginia Beach systems, the Microsoft solution will improve the city’s ability to meet its citizens’ expectations. “Citizens expect interactions with city government to be as convenient and reliable as their interactions with online businesses, so they are understandably frustrated when we have to take applications down for maintenance,” says Feeney. “Even though we have good reasons for such interruptions, the citizen who cannot pay a water bill or look up a property assessment perceives it as a failure of government to provide promised services. With the high- availability capabilities of SQL Server 2012, we can further strengthen the city’s ability to meet residents’ expectations, which will help improve their confidence in their elected officials.”

Supports Self-Service Querying

ComIT is pleased that the new solution will make it easier to give city departments access to application data so that they can perform their own queries. “Many of our off-the-shelf applications mix reporting with OLTP and cannot support the detailed reporting that some of our internal customers would like,” says Feeney. “With SQL Server 2012 read-only secondary databases, we can provide these customers access to the data without having to create costly custom solutions.”

Speeds Provisioning and Cuts Costs

By using a private cloud, Virginia Beach achieves lowers costs and greater efficiency for its test and development environments. “The ability to quickly provision servers is the biggest benefit of virtualizing with Hyper-V and SQL Server 2008 R2,” says Atwood. “And with Hyper-V checkpoints or System Center Data Protection Manager 2010, we can quickly roll back to a known good state if we encounter any problems. With our Microsoft private-cloud environment, we save about $7,000 annually on energy costs from running 213 virtual machines instead of 213 physical machines.”

Positions Virginia Beach for the Future

By deploying SQL Server 2012, Virginia Beach is well positioned for planned upgrades of its mission-critical systems, as well as for deployment of new solutions such as VoIP communications. “We aren’t just building a solution for today, we’re building a solution for the future,” says Vollmer. “With SQL Server 2012 high availability, we will be able to support upcoming critical projects such as the upgrade of our Unified Public Safety Program, as well as reduce our dependence on the vendor for our Computer Aided Dispatcher 911 system. In the long term, we are also excited that we will eventually be able to move from our analog phone system to VoIP with Lync Server 2010—something we could never have done without the high-availability capabilities of SQL Server 2012. With SQL Server 2012, we can go to our vendors with a platform that can provide true high availability, and this will position us well to take the best possible steps forward for the City of Virginia Beach.”

Microsoft Server Product Portfolio

For more information about the Microsoft server product portfolio, go to:
www.microsoft.com/servers

For More Information

For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers in the United States and Canada who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can reach Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to:
www.microsoft.com

For more information about the City of Virginia Beach products and services, call (757) 385-3111 or visit the website at:
www.vbgov.com

This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.
Solution Overview



Organization Size: 6890 employees

Organization Profile
Virginia Beach is the most populous city in Virginia, with 430,000 residents. Cited in 2011 by the website 24/7 Wall Street as the nation’s best-managed city, it employs about 7,500 people.

Business Situation
To position itself for future upgrades and expansions, Virginia Beach wanted to implement high availability and disaster recovery for its data management infrastructure. The city also wanted easier access to data for reporting.

Solution
Virginia Beach deployed Microsoft SQL Server 2012. The solution includes AlwaysOn availability groups and read-only secondary databases.

Benefits
  • Cuts annual maintenance costs by up to U.S.$50,000
  • Improves customer satisfaction
  • Supports self-service querying
  • Positions Virginia Beach for the future

Hardware
HP ProLiant BL460c blade server computers

Software and Services
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2012
  • Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services
  • Microsoft System Center Data Protection Manager 2010
  • Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2
  • Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 R3
  • Microsoft Services
  • Microsoft Hyper-V

Vertical Industries
  • State and Regional Government Agencies
  • Public Safety & Justice

Country/Region
United States

Business Need
  • Business Critical
  • Mission Critical

IT Issue
High Availability

Languages
English

Partner(s)
Microsoft Services

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