Aisle7 is a wellness marketing company that helps some of the biggest food and vitamin retailers market health and wellness products more effectively. To lower its operating costs and speed new product development, Aisle7 replaced its VMware
virtualization infrastructure with one based on Windows Server 2012 Datacenter and Hyper-V technology. The company gained access to a wealth of features that would have cost thousands of dollars extra from VMware and will allow it to delay a US$30,000 storage
expense—a massive cash-flow benefit for the firm. Aisle7 used Microsoft System Center 2012 to create a self-service portal that developers use to provision their own server resources, which speeds new-product development. By using clustering and other Windows
Server 2012 features, Aisle7 can more easily perform server maintenance and keep workloads running without interruption.
When grocery and wellness retailers want to help customers understand the health benefits of the products they sell, they turn to Aisle7. Aisle7 is a Portland, Oregon–based digital marketing firm that provides science-based, customer-friendly health
and wellness content and tools to retail firms for use on their websites, in-store kiosks, social media channels, and from smartphones. Aisle7 counts as customers seven of the top ten food retailers and the top three vitamin retailers.
||Now that we’re only using 3 terabytes of our 9-terabyte SAN, we can postpone a $30,000 SAN expenditure for two to three years. This is a massive benefit of Windows
| Jake Harris
Director of IT,
Aisle7 is constantly finding new ways to deliver its health and wellness data to retailers and their customers. But as an entrepreneurial company, Aisle7 needs to get the most out of every dollar it spends. Jake Harris, Director of IT at Aisle7, extended the
firm’s technology budget in 2010 by virtualizing the company’s server computers—creating multiple software-based servers inside physical servers to run the company’s operational and customer-facing software applications. He used VMware vSphere Essentials,
which met the company’s budget and allowed Aisle7 to slash its physical server count from 40 to 6.
However, vSphere Essentials offered limited functionality. “We could create virtual machines, back them up, and perform rudimentary management functions, but that was it,” Harris says. “We had no clustering or live migration capabilities, and we couldn’t
take advantage of data transfer features that our SAN [storage area network] offered. What was maddening was that every additional feature cost an extra [US]$5,000 to $10,000, which was cost-prohibitive for us.”
The lack of clustering and live migration capabilities meant that Harris had to perform routine server maintenance chores after hours or delay critical software updates—neither a great option. Without clustering, the company risked losing all virtual machines
on a host server if the host failed.
Also, VMware templates required expensive SAN storage, which was an IT resource that Harris was reluctant to cede. “To lose 500 gigabytes of our 9-terabyte SAN to virtual machine templates was a major sacrifice,” Harris says.
A further business impediment: Aisle7 wanted to deploy virtual machines faster to give development teams the IT resources that they needed to quickly create and test new products. These teams, in addition to marketers and others in the company, needed more
flexibility, scalability, and management control than Harris could provide with vSphere Essentials.
Aisle7 turned to Microsoft for a more flexible and cost-effective virtualization solution. Aisle7 already used Microsoft software extensively, on desktop computers, back-room servers, and in the cloud. It had recently enhanced its desktop productivity
software with Microsoft Office 365, a cloud-based service that gave employees “anywhere” access to document creation and sharing software, in addition to email messaging, instant messaging, and videoconferencing capabilities. “Microsoft innovation is proceeding
at a terrific pace,” Harris says. “We like everything we’re seeing, at every level of computing.”
Easy to Buy and Implement
||Microsoft innovation is proceeding at a terrific pace. We like everything we’re seeing, at every level of computing.
| Jake Harris
Director of IT,
To solve its server virtualization problems, Aisle7 decided to upgrade its servers to the Windows Server 2012 Datacenter operating system and to deploy Microsoft System Center 2012 to manage its physical and virtual servers. All Windows Server 2012 licenses
include features for which VMware charged extra. “The Microsoft pricing model is so much more inclusive than VMware’s,” Harris says. “The licensing efficiencies together with the many features that Windows Server 2012 provided made it a very cost-effective
Harris used the Virtual Machine Manager component of System Center 2012 to quickly create virtual machines on its physical servers; the Hyper-V technology in Windows Server 2012 provided the virtualization functionality that vSphere previously provided.
Once the virtual machines were in place, Harris used the Offloaded Data Transfer to quickly copy large amounts of data from one location to another. “Moving virtual machines to different LUNs [logical unit numbers] is so fast and makes so little impact to
our network that I can do the work during business hours, with no impact to our production systems,” Harris says. “Such an operation with vSphere would have caused significant downtime and would have been time consuming.”
Aisle7 has two Windows Server 2012-based production host servers and a third host server for testing, with 40 Hyper-V virtual machines running on those three physical servers. The company also maintains servers in a third-party data center about five miles
from Portland, where its customer-facing applications run. All will eventually be migrated to Windows Server 2012 and Hyper-V. By adding memory, Aisle7 has room to create dozens more virtual machines in this compact infrastructure. It uses a combination of
HP ProLiant DL3x0 series and Dell PowerEdge R310 servers and uses a Dell EqualLogic PS6100XS SAN.
Aisle7 is taking advantage of several Windows Server 2012 features to save money, improve agility, and increase application availability. It uses the data deduplication feature to dramatically decrease virtual-machine template storage needs. Data deduplication
finds and consolidates duplicate data without compromising data integrity; this enables companies to store more data in less physical space.
Hyper-V in Windows Server 2012 introduces a new version of the virtual hard drive (VHD) format called VHDX that has a much larger storage capacity than the older VHD format. Aisle7 uses the VHDX “trim” feature to store data more efficiently. Trim results
in smaller file size and allows the underlying physical storage device to reclaim unused space.
Harris used System Center 2012 to create a portal that quality assurance and development staff can use to deploy their own virtual machines from templates. Harris can assign the engineering team, say, 30 gigabytes (GB) of RAM and 200 GB of hard drive space
within the virtual environment and let the team manage these resources as it wants. Engineers can create and delete virtual machines as needed, while Harris maintains complete control and protection of production systems.
With Windows Server 2012, Aisle7 also gained much-needed clustering capabilities—the ability to configure multiple computers as a single system to share and protect one another’s workloads. With clustering and live migration—another Windows Server 2012 feature
that allows the movement of a running virtual machine from one host server to another—Harris can perform maintenance updates at any time, to any computer (physical or virtual), without interrupting the workloads running on them.
By switching to Windows Server 2012 with Hyper-V, Aisle7 gained many new capabilities that would have cost a great deal extra with VMware, and it postponed a $30,000 storage expense. It gained greater agility to support new product development, improved
server availability, and the company can now manage its technology more flexibly.
Avoid Thousands of Dollars in Technology Costs
||The licensing efficiencies together with
2012 provided made it a very cost-effective choice.
| Jake Harris
Director of IT,
With Windows Server 2012 Datacenter, Aisle7 gets a full suite of sophisticated features for which VMware charges thousands of dollars extra. “We get so much more from Microsoft for equivalent licensing fees,” Harris says. “Microsoft doesn’t charge for
every single feature like VMware does; it gives customers the full product feature set in every edition of Windows Server 2012. This gives businesses like ours access to enterprise-caliber features at a price we can afford.”
Additionally, Aisle7 can take advantage of the data storage efficiencies in Windows Server 2012 to dramatically reduce its storage needs, which constitute a significant cost for the company. By using data deduplication, the firm slashed its virtual-machine
template storage needs from 500 GB to 56 GB. Thanks to VHDX trim, the firm was also able to halve the amount of space used in its 9-terabyte SAN, from 6 terabytes to 3 terabytes, giving the company much more growing room in this expensive asset.
“Now that we’re only using 3 terabytes of our 9-terabyte SAN, we can postpone a $30,000 SAN expenditure for two to three years. This is a massive benefit of Windows Server 2012 for us,” Harris says. “Also, when VMware files consumed 6 terabytes of the SAN,
I was constantly juggling space to make sure everything fit. With Windows Server 2012, my SAN management time is vastly reduced.”
Deploy Virtual Machines Faster to Support Innovation
Aisle7 also has a more agile, flexible server infrastructure with Hyper-V. Developers can gain access to virtual machines whenever they need them; they don’t have to wait for IT or subscribe to resources from third-party cloud vendors that fall outside
of IT oversight. Faster deployment of IT resources helps Aisle7 speed its new-product development cycle and get new products out the door sooner.
The company is also looking at using Windows Azure to handle spikes in computing and storage needs and also to lower IT costs. Windows Azure provides on-demand compute, storage, content delivery, and networking capabilities to host, scale, and manage web
applications through Microsoft data centers. Aisle7 could use Windows Azure to instantly provision new web or other servers. It may even supplement the servers currently in its colocation facility with Windows Azure resources.
Gain More IT Management Flexibility, Availability
With the clustering capabilities provided by Windows Server 2012, Harris has more flexibility in scheduling maintenance work; he no longer has to take servers offline, interrupt employees, or work nights and weekends. “This means less off-hours work
for me and more time with my family,” Harris says.
The higher availability made possible by clustering and live migration also helps Harris sleep better at night. “With Windows Server 2012, I have greater peace of mind because of the assurance that all our workloads are well protected should a virtual or
physical server fail,” Harris says. “With so many other things to do in a small business, one less thing to worry about is a very welcome benefit.”
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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