To help change its business model from a traditional web hosting company to a cloud services provider, Outsourcery is taking advantage of the latest improvements in the Windows Server 2012 operating system and Hyper-V virtualization technology.
No longer hampered by a four-core-per-virtual-machine limit, Outsourcery can accommodate partners and customers that demand high-performance virtual machines. Data center administrators are running 67 percent more virtual machines per server. Administrators
can build an eight-node Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V cluster in just a few hours instead of a week, and they can perform simultaneous live migrations 10 times faster than before. Outsourcery expects to save more than £50,000 (US$78,000) a year in IT costs and
to serve more partners and customers more quickly with a minimal quantity of resources—containing costs and growing its business.
In the United Kingdom, Outsourcery provides a broad range of cloud offerings, including hosted software applications, virtualized infrastructure, and unified communications solutions. Outsourcery is a member of the Microsoft Partner Network with four
Gold competencies. In 2010, it was named Microsoft Hosting Solutions Partner of the Year, and in 2011, it was a finalist for Microsoft Dynamics CRM Partner of the Year. Outsourcery is also a member of the Presidents Club, an elite group of strategic partners
whose sales achievements rank them as the highest in the Microsoft Dynamics global partner network.
Dynamic Data Center Initiative
Recently, Outsourcery took a step forward in its strategic plans to expand its existing cloud services to include a larger portfolio of next-generation cloud products. From the perspective of a cloud service provider, public cloud computing incorporates
the automated and on-demand delegation of compute, storage, and networking resources to partners and their customers as needed through a shared physical infrastructure maintained by the cloud provider.
||We use Windows Server 2012 to deliver scalable, reliable cloud services that meet our partners’ and customers’ needs, while maximizing the value of data center investments. It’s our platform for growth.
| Dan Germain
Director of Hosting Infrastructure, Outsourcery
To support its plans, Outsourcery upgraded its platform to utilize dynamic data center solutions from Microsoft and, therefore, benefit from the latest advancements in automated cloud management and administration. The company also upgraded its data center
in Leicester and opened another data center in London in July 2011. Outsourcery offered new services, such as infrastructure as a service (IaaS), which provides Windows-based virtual machines on demand. It used Microsoft Systems Center data center solutions
and HP Converged Infrastructure, which integrates technologies into shared pools of interoperable resources and provides seamless management. The platform included the Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter operating system with Hyper-V virtualization technology
and new HP ProLiant BL460c G7 Server Blades.
“We have seen a lot of interest in shared cloud services and dedicated cloud infrastructure from small and midsize businesses. We have closed deals from 10 through 20,000 seats of Microsoft communications tools, business applications, and cloud infrastructure
solutions running on a dedicated cloud platform,” says Mike Charles, Product Manager for Cloud Infrastructure at Outsourcery. “We began this initiative expecting to see our business increase five-fold in the first two years and we are right on track.”
However, as demand for Outsourcery cloud services increases, the company must continue to deliver reliable applications and favorable user experiences to maintain growth. As Outsourcery is serving more and more partners, including independent software
vendors and value-added resellers, it must provide cloud services geared to their needs. Outsourcery needed to create a cloud computing environment that would enable it to provide agile, responsive services to its partners to build their own businesses. “Our
focus is on helping our partners to quickly and efficiently deliver cloud-based solutions to their own customers,” says Dan Germain, Director of Hosting Infrastructure at Outsourcery. “We need to provide partners with self-service tools to help them activate
those services quickly, all from the Outsourcery platform.”
As a cloud services provider, Outsourcery runs business applications on a shared hardware platform. To remain competitive, it has to improve management efficiency and control operational costs at its data centers. “As we see greater demand for our services
from our partners, we need to enable a greater density on our platform to keep our costs under control. For that reason, we want to be able to run more workloads and accommodate more businesses by using existing resources—without degrading service levels.
We were running about 12 virtual machines, limited to four processors each, per host server with up to 32 gigabytes of RAM per virtual machine. For some of the workloads that we run in a multitenant platform with thousands of users, these limitations impacted
how we could scale and grow the business.”
Large enterprise partners wanted Outsourcery to offer more flexibility in terms of network segregation. The company is using virtual local area networks (VLANs) to isolate networks of virtual machines for individual partners and their customers on a shared
physical network. This increased management overhead as administrators have to renumber partners’ IP addresses to accommodate the physical and topological design of the Outsourcery data center. “As we started scaling with hundreds of partners, changing IP
ranges and reconfiguring production switches when we moved virtual machines created additional layers of complexity,” says Germain. “This impeded our ability to quickly serve enterprise partners.”
Other manual data center management tasks reduced efficiency and impacted customer service. It took several hours for administrators to perform large-scale, live migrations of virtual machines because they could only move one virtual machine at a time. Building
a new Hyper-V cluster could take up to a week because it required manual processes. To take advantage of its two data centers and offer data replication services, Outsourcery had to use expensive, storage area network (SAN) replication technology, which reduced
the marketability of its service. Also, staff often struggled with virtual machines that consumed a disproportionate quantity of resources on the shared network.
||With Dynamic Memory, we are achieving better density, going from 12 virtual machines per server to 20 virtual machines per server—equating to a 67 percent improvement in density, in some cases.
| Trevor Baker
Senior Microsoft Infrastructure Engineer, Outsourcery
“We made great strides with our Dynamic Data Center initiative, launching our facilities last year and taking advantage of virtualization technologies from Microsoft,” says Germain. “Now we wanted to take our data centers to the next level of density, maximizing
the value of the resources we have to contain costs, while ensuring superior cloud computing services for our partners and customers. For these reasons, we were eager to find out more about the features and capabilities in the next version of Windows Server.
Luckily, in January 2012, Microsoft invited us to join the Rapid Deployment Program [RDP] for the Windows Server 2012 operating system.”
Outsourcery chose to focus on a specific scenario within the RDP that concentrated on Hyper-V density and scale. This scenario introduces enhancements in the Windows Server 2012 hypervisor that Outsourcery can use to increase the density of virtual machines
per host server through an improved architecture and better support tools. Windows Server 2012 supports virtual machines with up to 64 virtual processors and 1 terabyte of memory and clusters with as many as 64 nodes.
“We joined the RDP because we are interested in new technology and in being on the leading-edge of IT developments. We love the feedback and involvement from Microsoft in learning about and shaping a new product,” says Germain. “The scenario made sense to
us because it is aimed at service providers, and it focuses on increasing platform density. We want to reduce our capital outlay on hardware and gain more density from our platform, so it was perfect.”
Used Existing Resources for New Cluster
Outsourcery worked with Microsoft Services to build an eight-node Hyper-V cluster that uses blade servers and network and storage solutions from its existing production platform. “The first benefit of the RDP was that we could take some of our spare
capacity and rebuild that as a Windows Server 2012 production environment, without having to buy new hardware,” says Trevor Baker, Senior Microsoft Infrastructure Engineer at Outsourcery. “We had already been through similar exercises building clusters in
our Windows Server 2008 R2 environment, so we used that knowledge and experience and put it into our 2012 build.”
At Outsourcery, the new Windows Server 2012 production cluster has more than 100 virtual machines running an average of six cores per virtual machine. Initially, the cluster supported 10 customers; however, for the rest of the RDP, Outsourcery continued
to move services onto the eight-node Hyper-V cluster to evaluate density, scalability, and performance, comparing metrics with its existing environment. As soon as Windows Server 2012 was released to manufacturing, Outsourcery began to rebuild all 10 clusters
in its data center and will host approximately 1,000 virtual machines running on the latest operating system.
Administrative staff at Outsourcery is also using Windows PowerShell 3.0 command-line interface and scripting language as a comprehensive management tool that covers all aspects of the data center—servers, network, and storage. With 2,300 new task-oriented
cmdlets—the smallest unit of functionality in the Windows PowerShell scripting language—there are many new opportunities to automate data center deployments.
“The whole process of deploying nodes and building a cluster is much easier with Windows Server 2012 because of the cmdlets in Windows PowerShell 3.0,” says Baker. “Now we have a good set of automation tools for scripting IP address settings and VLAN settings.
We expect to have the process of deploying nodes entirely automated by the time Windows Server 2012 is released to manufacturing.”
The RDP provides Outsourcery the opportunity to explore many features within Windows Server 2012 that will help improve density and efficiency in the data center while controlling costs:
Hyper-V Dynamic Memory. Outsourcery data center administrators are evaluating Hyper-V Dynamic Memory, a feature in Windows Server 2012 that improves consolidation ratios by introducing a setting that allows Hyper-V to reclaim unused memory from any virtual
machine. “In the lab, we ran out of storage space long before we ran out memory, which is a good indicator of the higher consolidation ratios that we can expect when we migrate everything into production,” says Baker.
Simultaneous and “shared nothing” live migration. Outsourcery administrative staff evaluated improvements in the live migration feature of Hyper-V by using higher network bandwidth, up to 10 gigabytes, to complete migrations in a clustered environment. “We
are impressed by “shared nothing” live migration, where we can migrate a virtual machine from one Hyper-V host to another that isn’t part of the same cluster and that shares no storage,” says Germain. “Also, we will be able to take advantage of simultaneous
live migration of many virtual machines to improve our agility and performance in the data center.”
Hyper-V Network Virtualization. It will be easier for Outsourcery to isolate partners’ and customers’ virtual networks on its shared infrastructure by using Hyper-V Network Virtualization. “We are excited about the Hyper-V Network Virtualization feature
in Windows Server 2012 because it will help us isolate network traffic from different partners and their respective customers without using VLANs,” says Neil Merton, Innovations and IT Development Manager at Outsourcery. “And we can move virtual machines as
needed within our virtual infrastructure while preserving their IP addresses.”
Outsourcery will also be able to use Hyper-V Network Virtualization to allow partners’ and customers’ private networks and IP address space to extend into its own data centers. This is one way the hosting provider can take advantage of its two data centers,
offering customers higher levels of business continuity through replicated environments.
Hyper-V Replica. Outsourcery can also take advantage of its two data centers by using Hyper-V Replica, another Windows Server 2012 feature, which provides a storage-agnostic and workload-agnostic solution that replicates virtual machines over IP-based networks.
If a disaster occurs at the primary site, Outsourcery administrators can restore business operations by quickly failing over the replicated services at the target site.
In a related project, Outsourcery is participating in the Microsoft System Center 2012 Service Pack 1 Technical Adoption Program to administer its Windows Server 2012 environment. “As we transition to a standardized Windows Server 2012 environment, we plan
to continue using System Center 2012 to manage both the physical and virtual elements of our data center,” says Germain.
With Windows Server 2012, Outsourcery has a complete solution to cloud-optimize its data centers, including the high-density and performance capabilities it needs to drive business while containing costs. “We use Windows Server 2012 to deliver scalable,
reliable cloud services that meet our partners’ and customers’ needs, while maximizing the value of data center investments,” says Germain. “It’s our platform for growth.”
Increases Density, Promotes Business Growth
As a result of its RDP work with Microsoft, Outsourcery is making progress toward its goal to become the first choice for line-of-business workloads in the cloud for the United Kingdom. To accommodate a five-fold increase in hosted services demand, Outsourcery
will benefit from increased virtual machine density and performance in Windows Server 2012. “With Dynamic Memory, we are achieving better density, going from 12 virtual machines per server to 20 virtual machines per server—equating to a 67 percent improvement
in density, in some cases,” says Baker. “We expect to run more workloads faster with Hyper-V in Windows Server 2012, gaining a high-density, flexible environment that we can adjust dynamically to meet fluctuations in demand.”
Outsourcery has already used Windows Server 2012 to accommodate a large enterprise that required high-performance virtual machines. “The requirement was for more cores per virtual machine for an installation of Microsoft SQL Server 2012 data management software,
which supports its global Microsoft SharePoint environment,” says Baker. “We added four virtual machines, each with eight virtual processors, to our Windows Server 2012 cluster and were able to accommodate the customer’s requirements in a way we couldn’t have
done before. Now the door is open to increase business by hosting high-performance, dynamically scalable workloads for our enterprise partners.”
Because it can run more virtual machines on its existing physical infrastructure, Outsourcery expects to lower costs. “Every time we increase virtual machine counts on our platform, it lowers the cost of service delivery for us, savings that we can pass
on to our partners,” says Germain. “If we can get twice as many servers on the platform, we’ve halved our infrastructure costs. With Windows Server 2012, we’re expecting to maximize the benefit of our capital expenditures.”
||With Windows Server 2012, the list goes on as to how we can use it to increase our business.... We can't wait until we are fully deployed.
| Dan Germain
Director of Hosting Infrastructure, Outsourcery
Outsourcery staff can use the capabilities in Windows Server 2012 to increase efficiency in the data center and save IT labor costs in a number of ways. The cloud service provider is looking forward to using network virtualization to eliminate the time it spends
every week managing VLANs and renumbering IP addresses for enterprise partners and their customers. “Managing VLANs as we scaled to hundreds of businesses was creating high overhead, but with Hyper-V Network Virtualization, we’ll be reducing operational costs,”
says Germain. “Similarly, the 10-fold performance improvements from live migration and the ability to perform simultaneous migrations of workloads between clusters increases efficiency and reduces disruption in the data center when performing maintenance.
This reduces IT labor costs further.”
Previously, it could take IT staff from 30 through 60 minutes to migrate virtual machines from a cluster node—while the machines are still running—to perform maintenance such as security updates. “With Windows Server 2012, it now takes 20 seconds to migrate
a virtual machine and we can clear virtual machines from a host in fewer than seven minutes,” says Germain. “And with cluster-aware updating, the administration overhead is virtually eliminated. Overall, we expect to save at least 120 hours a month in IT labor
costs, equating to £50,000 [US$78,000] a year.”
Instead of using expensive SAN replication technology, Outsourcery can save money providing the same capabilities by using the Hyper-V Replica feature in Windows Server 2012. And by using Resource Metering, Outsourcery can charge more accurately for its
services, moving to a more flexible commercial model.
Improves Agility, Customer Service
Based on its experience in the RDP, Outsourcery plans to use Windows Server 2012 as a complete virtualization platform to increase data center efficiency. “We are conducting live migrations across clusters that are 10 times faster than before,” says
Germain. “Thanks to Windows PowerShell 3.0, we can build an eight-node cluster in a couple of hours today, compared to a week before, significantly boosting our ability to respond quickly and scale as needed.”
Outsourcery data center administrators are aggregating more NICs to efficiently build converged networks and are using QoS to guarantee a minimum bandwidth per virtual machine to prevent single virtual machines from consuming too many resources and potentially
degrading performance for other customers on the shared network. Outsourcery can offer new products and services based on Hyper-V Replica, including the ability for partners to back up their customers’ on-premises Hyper-V environments to its data centers.
Also, partners can replicate a customer’s environment between the two data centers to offer integrated disaster recovery service for improved business continuity planning.
“With Windows Server 2012, the list goes on as to how we can use it to increase our business,” says Germain. “Being an early adopter through our involvement with Microsoft and the RDP gives us an advantage because that relationship resonates with partners
and their customers who see that we are leaders in the field. We can’t wait until we are fully deployed.”
Windows Server 2012
Windows Server drives many of the world’s largest data centers, empowers small businesses around the world, and delivers value to organizations of all sizes in between. Building on this legacy, Windows Server 2012 redefines the category, delivering hundreds
of new features and enhancements that span virtualization, networking, storage, user experience, cloud computing, automation, and more. Simply put, Windows Server 2012 helps you transform your IT operations to reduce costs and deliver a whole new level of
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