4-page Case Study
Posted: 6/20/2012
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Northern Ireland Water Utility Virtualizes 80 Percent of Infrastructure While Doubling Server Capacity

When Northern Ireland Water needed to relocate its data center, it decided to use an existing building that it owned, instead of renting server space. However, the space was too small to accommodate its nearly 200 servers. Although Northern Ireland Water had some experience with VMware, the company decided to virtualize its infrastructure using Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V technology and now has a server infrastructure composed of 24 physical servers and 125 virtual machines, which it is in the process of expanding to 44 servers and up to 275 virtual machines. By adopting a virtualization strategy, the company increased server utilization from less than 5 percent to almost 60 percent and improved the way it delivers IT services. It also reduced the costs associated with space, energy, and hardware and simplified IT management with a standardized virtualization platform.

Northern Ireland Water was established in 2007 as a government-owned company that replaced a civil service body and is the sole provider of water and sewage services to 806,500 households and business throughout Northern Ireland. Although the utility is government-owned, Northern Ireland Water operates under company legislation and with substantial independence from the government.

With the organizational structure that replaced the civil service status of the company in 2007, came new-found autonomy for Northern Ireland Water. The company had to move its IT operations, which included almost 200 physical servers, out of a state-owned data center. The company had two choices: rent server space in a third-party facility or move its server equipment into existing space. Northern Ireland Water knew that using a building it already owned to house its data center was the most fiscally responsible choice, but space was limited in the small building located in the outskirts of Belfast.

* We have more than doubled our server capacity by virtualizing with Hyper-V but have dramatically reduced our physical server count.
Arthur Crawford,
Head of IT Operations, Northern Ireland Water
Not only did the company have limited space to set up its physical servers, but its server infrastructure was also not finite. Like many organizations, each time the company made an investment in a new application, it also added another physical server to support the application. As a consequence, the servers were under-utilized, running at less than 5 percent utilization.

The company had some experience with server virtualization when it used VMware to run its billing infrastructure through a managed service contract in 2008. So, it knew that virtualization and running multiple applications on a single physical server was a likely remedy to the company’s space constraints and under-utilized server resources. “We wanted a much smaller footprint for our servers and wanted them to run as efficiently as possible,” says Arthur Crawford, Head of IT Operations at Northern Ireland Water. “We knew that a virtualization strategy was the way to go.”

In addition to improved server utilization and a smaller physical server footprint, Northern Ireland Water also hoped to reduce its power consumption and associated costs. Additionally, it wanted to implement a resilient disaster recovery strategy, which it previously lacked, with its venture into server virtualization.

Although Northern Ireland Water already had experience with VMware, the company decided to virtualize its server infrastructure using Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 Datacenter with Hyper-V technology in July 2010. The company used a multiphase approach to its virtualization project and worked with Kelway (UK), Ltd., a member of the Microsoft Partner Network that is also based in Northern Ireland.

During the initial phase of the project, Northern Ireland Water and Kelway focused on physical server consolidation, and they targeted servers running mission-critical applications and those servers running on older hardware that were nearing obsolescence. They started by implementing a 12-node cluster running Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V technology on Dell blade servers. Northern Ireland Water uses the Live Migration feature in Hyper-V to move running virtual machines to the failover nodes without service interruption. The company also implemented a storage area network (SAN) solution from NetApp. In just six months, Northern Ireland Water had a new data center running with a total of 53 physical servers and 23 virtual hosts. It decommissioned the remaining 14 servers.

Northern Ireland Water uses Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2 to manage its virtual infrastructure. By using Virtual Machine Manager, the company can centrally administer its virtual servers and monitor server resources and utilization. By the end of the first phase of the project, the company had increased its server utilization to more than 60 percent.

After its initial success with server virtualization using Hyper-V, Northern Ireland Water decided to implement a single virtualization platform built on Hyper-V for its production environment in the data warehouse. For this phase, the company virtualized its entire test, development, user acceptance testing, and production servers along with its environment, which consisted of 20 servers running business-critical software, including Microsoft SQL Server 2008 data management software and Microsoft BizTalk Server 2006. The company used a 12-node cluster running Hyper-V with 100 virtual machines.

In August 2011, after completing both phases of the project, Northern Ireland Water had a total of 24 hosts running on Hyper-V with 125 virtual machines. For its hardware, the company used two Dell M1000e server racks and 24 Dell PowerEdge M610 blade servers. By July 2012, it plans to have 44 hosts running up to 275 virtual machines.

The company also decided to use Hyper-V as its disaster recovery platform for all key business applications. Northern Ireland Water spans its disaster recovery infrastructure across two geographically dispersed locations for even more resilience in the case of a failure. It uses two 12-node clusters and keeps 6 nodes in one data center offline, replicating the data between offline and online nodes. In the case of a failure of its online nodes, the company can now bring up its offline nodes in a matter of minutes.

By using Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V technology in addition to System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008, Northern Ireland Water not only consolidated its server infrastructure but also improved its server utilization efficiency. The company reduced its dependence on physical hardware, thereby also reducing expenses, and with a single virtualization platform, it has simplified infrastructure maintenance.

* Previously, it would take us months to procure, rack, and configure new hardware, but with Hyper-V, we have a base image and can roll out a new virtual machine in less than two hours.
Arthur Crawford
Head of IT Operations, Northern Ireland Water
Efficient Use of Server Resources
Whereas previously Northern Ireland Water struggled to rein in an ever-expanding server infrastructure that inevitably lead to less than 5 percent server utilization in some cases, the company now has fewer servers that run at optimized capacities. In fact, the company increased its server utilization rate to almost 60 percent by using Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V, while at the same time reducing the number of physical servers it uses from 200 to only 24. “We have more than doubled our server capacity by virtualizing with Hyper-V but have dramatically reduced our physical server count,” says Crawford.

Improved Business Continuity
The IT department at the utility company is now able to respond to business needs more quickly thanks to its virtualization strategy. Instead of experiencing protracted service times as a result of procuring and configuring new server hardware each time the department needs to deploy a new application to support business operations, IT administrators can quickly scale up its infrastructure by adding new virtual machines without additional hardware. “Hyper-V has given us the ability to rapidly roll out new applications and has enabled faster provisioning,” says Crawford. “Previously, it would take us months to procure, rack, and configure new hardware, but with Hyper-V, we have a base image and can roll out a new virtual machine in less than two hours. Feedback from internal customers is that this has significantly improved the service we provide back to the business.”

In addition, the company implemented a highly available infrastructure, which further improves business continuity. “We now have higher availability than before,” says Crawford. “If one server goes down, we can automatically move the hosted images to another server without the user even knowing that something has happened and without disrupting service.”

Reduced Costs: Space, Power, Hardware
Northern Ireland Water saves costs in several ways by virtualizing its server infrastructure. First, the company avoided costs associated with renting server space at a third-party facility and was able to use its existing real estate. Although its existing building was relatively small, Northern Ireland Water built its data center in the limited space it had available. By consolidating its physical servers and virtualizing with Hyper-V, by July 2012, there will be 44 physical hosts and up to 275 virtual machines—effectively reducing its number of physical servers by 80 percent.

Second, the company no longer needs to buy expensive server hardware to deploy a new application or service to its environment. “A physical infrastructure with high-availability and disaster recovery in a hosted data center could cost us tens of thousands of pounds per year,” says Crawford. “By using virtualization with Hyper-V, we will be greatly reducing the number of physical racks required, with one for our blades and one for the SAN.” In addition, by reducing the amount of hardware required for its server infrastructure and using the latest in water cooled racks, the utility company has reduced its power consumption and saves energy costs on an ongoing basis.

Simplified IT Management
By standardizing its server infrastructure on Microsoft virtualization technologies, Northern Ireland Water is simplifying infrastructure management. As the previous environment is phased out, the company no longer worries about maintaining multiple virtualization platforms or supporting various hardware configurations. “The ease of management with Hyper-V and Virtual Machine Manager minimizes the need to spend significant time retraining the IT teams and has resulted in a seamless transition from supporting the previous VMware environment,” says Crawford. This easy shift to a virtualized infrastructure has been a cornerstone to the project’s success. “The combination of Microsoft virtualization technologies and the expert delivery from our internal IT team has ensured our success,” says Crawford. “Now, we will virtualize everything on Hyper-V because it just works.”

Windows Server 2008 R2
Windows Server 2008 R2 is a multipurpose operating system designed to increase the reliability and flexibility of your server and private cloud infrastructure, helping you to save time and reduce costs. It provides you with powerful tools to react to business needs faster than ever before with greater control and confidence. For more information, visit:


For More Information
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For more information about Kelway’s products and services, visit the website at:

For more information about Northern Ireland Water products and services, call (44) 08457 440088 or visit the website at:

Solution Overview

Organization Size: 1400 employees

Organization Profile

Northern Ireland Water is a government-owned company that provides 625 million liters of clean drinking water daily to 806,500 households and businesses in the region.

Business Situation

The utility needed to relocate its data center but did not have enough space to contain its sprawling infrastructure. The company wanted to consolidate physical servers and improve server utilization.


Northern Ireland Water virtualized 80 percent of its infrastructure using Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V, eventually implementing Hyper-V as its single virtualization platform.


  • Improved server utilization from 5 percent to 60 percent
  • Improved business continuity
  • Reduced costs for hardware, space, and energy
  • Simplified IT management

  • Dell M610 PowerEdge blade servers
  • Dell M1000e server rack chassis

Software and Services
  • Windows Server 2008 R2
  • Microsoft Hyper-V
  • Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2

Vertical Industries
Power & Utilities


Business Need
  • Cloud & Server Platform
  • Cost Containment

IT Issue