4-page Case Study
Posted: 1/13/2014
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Ancestry.com Family History Site Reduces Server Count and Costs, Boosts Agility with Private Cloud

Ancestry.com is the world’s largest online family history resource, providing millions of subscribers with access to historical records. To make its massive IT infrastructure more cost-effective and responsive, Ancestry.com used Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V and Microsoft System Center 2012 with Service Pack 1 to create a private-cloud environment. With its private cloud, the company halved its number of physical servers while providing the business with plenty of growing room. By using the automated efficiencies of the private cloud, Ancestry.com expects that the company can grow without significantly increasing its IT staff. It can also respond faster to business needs, delivering servers in just 30 minutes. Ancestry.com is currently upgrading to the Windows Server 2012 operating system to gain higher reliability and better support for the Linux operating system.

Situation
Millions of people around the world have uncovered their past at Ancestry.com, the world’s largest online family history resource. The Provo, Utah-based company has more than 2.7 million paying subscribers who have constructed family trees by using billions of historical records that Ancestry.com has digitized from 40 countries reaching back to the late 1300s. Ancestry.com servers handle 40 million searches daily, and the company has extended the experience to mobile and social media environments.

Ancestry.com is a consumer-facing technology company that prides itself on giving customers an easy-to-use interface that conceals the power and sophistication of its data center infrastructure, which includes “Big Data” analytics, artificial intelligence, and state-of-the-art search solutions. However, it was a challenge for the Ancestry.com IT staff to keep up with the company’s growth and massive compute needs.

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* Thanks to our Hyper-V private cloud, we have all the capacity we need at half the cost, with room to grow for another 12 months. *

Huy Ly
Infrastructure Architect and Director of Operations, Ancestry.com

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By early 2012, the company’s server infrastructure numbered approximately 7,400 physical servers, distributed between its main data center in Salt Lake City, Utah, and its disaster recovery data center location. The IT staff knew that it needed to expand its limited use of server virtualization and take the next step into private cloud computing if it was going to keep data center costs down and increase IT responsiveness. A private-cloud environment is a virtualized pool of server, storage, and networking resources that can be dynamically reconfigured in a highly automated fashion and is dedicated to a single organization’s use.

“Our physical infrastructure was only part of the cost,” says Huy Ly, Infrastructure Architect and Director of Operations for Ancestry.com. “More significant was the cost of managing all those servers. Simply deploying servers took a significant amount of time from our highly skilled systems engineers. The company has aggressive growth goals, and we wanted to use our IT staff to more efficiently address our IT infrastructure needs.”

The business also needed the IT organization to deliver and scale IT services much faster, to handle new product development and marketing campaigns. “With the continued growth of our subscriber base and data volumes, we needed a scalable infrastructure,” Ly says. “We are adding new services, such as DNA testing, and acquiring new businesses that add new capabilities. Our internal customers demand fast service.”

Because of the complexity of delivering new servers, the IT team had to employ different strategies and solutions to address business needs. This created infrastructure pockets and added extra expense.

Solution
Ancestry.com considered several options for private-cloud technology but selected Microsoft over its existing virtualization vendor, chiefly because of the management capabilities provided by Microsoft System Center 2012 data center solutions. “It actually took a lot to convince me to go with Microsoft, since most of my background is with other virtualization options,” says Ly. “However, when I saw System Center, I knew that it would be difficult to implement a private cloud without something like it—at least without much higher costs. We would have to purchase many third-party tools for orchestration, monitoring, reporting, and other functions, and we were already getting System Center in our Microsoft license.”

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* With the continued growth of our subscriber base and data volumes, we needed a scalable infrastructure. *

Huy Ly
Infrastructure Architect and Director of Operations, Ancestry.com

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The Microsoft account team helped Ancestry.com architect its private-cloud environment, and Microsoft Services Consulting helped migrate existing virtual machines to the Hyper-V technology in the Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system. The company is currently in the process of upgrading to the Windows Server 2012 operating system.

“Windows Server 2012 gives us much better reliability and also better support for the Linux operating system, which we use for business intelligence, some databases, and open source development,” Ly says. “Having first-class Linux support in our Hyper-V host servers gives us great flexibility in delivering the resources that our developers need within a common private-cloud infrastructure.”

The Ancestry.com private cloud currently consists of 107 host servers that contain 3,700 virtual machines. The company’s physical servers are down by about half, to 3,400 servers. The company uses Dell PowerEdge 620 servers because of their simple design and easy management. “Today, our entire public-facing web infrastructure that services millions of visitors a day runs in our private cloud,” Ly says.

Ancestry.com uses System Center 2012 with Service Pack 1 (SP1) to deploy, monitor, and manage its private cloud. It uses the Virtual Machine Manager component to dynamically deploy and reprovision virtual machines and load-balance cloud resources. It uses the Operations Manager component for infrastructure monitoring, customer transaction monitoring, and dashboard reporting. It deployed Veeam software to enable Operations Manager to report on existing virtual machines before they were migrated to Hyper-V.

The IT team uses other System Center 2012 SP1 components to automate operating system and security update deployment, IT workflows, and service management. “System Center 2012 provides complete automation of the private cloud,” Ly says. “The number of things that this software does is quite remarkable.”

Benefits
By using Hyper-V to run its private-cloud environment, Ancestry.com was able to halve its physical server count and avoid the expense of building a new data center. It is also able to manage a rapidly growing IT infrastructure without appreciably expanding its IT staff; Ly believes that the company can continue to grow while keeping IT staff size fundamentally unchanged. Just as important, Ancestry.com now has the agility that it needs and can provision servers much faster.

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* By using System Center 2012 SP1, the company can continue to grow while IT staff growth remains essentially flat. *

Huy Ly
Infrastructure Architect and Director of Operations, Ancestry.com

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Halve Server Count and Costs
Ancestry.com has retired 4,000 physical servers by creating a private-cloud infrastructure and averted future data center costs. “If we hadn’t been able to cut our server costs in half, I would have had to go out and acquire new data center space to meet business-growth needs,” Ly says. “Thanks to our Hyper-V private cloud, we have all the capacity we need at half the cost, with room to grow for another 12 months.”

Support Business Growth with No Increase in IT Staff
The IT organization has progressed from a mostly manual to a fully automated server deployment methodology, which dramatically lowers data center management costs. IT staff members are less reactive and more proactive in identifying and addressing infrastructure changes, which enables them to deliver better performance and availability to internal and external customers.

Ly has upgraded the systems engineer job role to include monitoring and optimizing the cloud infrastructure rather than deploying servers. “I can hire someone out of college at a far lower cost to do server deployment while our systems engineers can focus on doing higher-value tasks,” Ly says. “This gives employees new skills and makes their jobs more enjoyable. By using System Center 2012 SP1, the company can continue to grow while IT staff growth remains essentially flat.”

Deliver Agility Needed for Business Growth
Ancestry.com finally has the agility it needs to fulfill IT service requests as quickly as the business issues them. “With our private cloud, we can deliver servers to the business in 30 minutes versus the weeks previously required,” Ly says. “This rapid response gives us the flexibility to try out different technologies and add more functionality to our products sooner. This keeps our customers coming back to Ancestry.com for services that they can’t get anywhere else.”

With the IT organization able to deliver servers in just 30 minutes, developers have all the resources they need as soon as they need them. “The ability to deliver servers so quickly keeps our infrastructure under central control,” Ly says. “This reduces costs and delivers greater security to the business.”

Transform the data center
The hybrid cloud from Microsoft transforms the data center by extending existing investments in skills and technology with public cloud services and a common set of management tools. With an on-premises infrastructure connected to the Windows Azure platform, you can deliver services faster and scale up or down quickly to meet changing needs.

For more information about transforming the data center, go to:
www.microsoft.com/en-us/server-cloud/cloud-os/modern-data-center.aspx

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 Ancestry.com products and services, visit the website at:
www.ancestry.com

Solution Overview



Organization Size: 1200 employees

Organization Profile

Ancestry.com is the world’s largest online family history resource, with more than 2.7 million paying subscribers, billions of historical records, and millions of family trees.


Business Situation

Ancestry.com needed to curb server sprawl and rising data center costs while also speeding the delivery of IT services to accommodate rapid business growth.


Solution

Ancestry.com created a private-cloud environment, choosing to use the Hyper-V technology in Windows Server 2008 R2 and Microsoft System Center 2012.


Benefits

  • Halve server count and costs
  • Support business growth with no increase in IT staff
  • Deliver agility needed for business growth


Hardware
  • Dell PowerEdge 620 servers

Software and Services
  • Windows Server 2012 Datacenter
  • Microsoft Hyper-V
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter
  • Microsoft System Center 2012 SP1
  • Microsoft Consulting Services
  • Datacenter

Vertical Industries
Other Services

Country/Region
United States

Business Need
  • Cost Containment
  • Cloud & Server Platform

IT Issue
Private Cloud

Languages
English

Partner(s)
Microsoft Services

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