Software Provider Uses Hyper-V over VMware to Lower Cost by 28 Percent, Boost Capacity

Profiles International, which helps enterprises to attract and retain top talent, was itself attracting and retaining too much IT infrastructure for its own comfort. It needed increased capacity to support growth, but the company wanted to control its infrastructure and costs, rather than be controlled by them. The company tried virtualization using VMware, then moved to Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V technology when it saw the chance to get a more powerful solution on more favorable terms. The results: Hosting fees are down by 28 percent compared to VMware, with capacity up by 29 percent. Compared to the physical environment, troubleshooting time in the virtual environment is down by 67 percent, staffing needs are down by 50 percent, and provisioning time is down by 95 percent. The company is speeding product development, bettering customer support, and even boosting its own recruitment.

Situation
The rapidly growing professionalization of the global workforce was a boon to Profiles International, which makes and distributes assessment software for human resource departments—until it became a challenge.

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*We wanted IT to be a net contributor to the company’s growth. With Hyper-V, that’s what we are.*

Sia Ahmadzadeh
Senior Vice President, IT and Product Services, Profiles International

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From its corporate headquarters in Waco, Texas, the relatively small (165 employees) company has grown to become a significant worldwide presence in the market for software solutions that help companies to select, hire, retain, and develop workforces. Profiles International has 750 representatives worldwide, 40,000 customers and 48 million users in 122 countries, and products in 32 languages.

As developing countries have become increasingly developed, as largely rural workforces have become largely urban, and as U.S. companies have turned more and more to skilled labor to help meet the competition from globalization, Profiles International has been well-positioned with software solutions that have fueled its growth.

Until several years ago, all of the company’s customers received Profiles International solutions on CDs and as software downloads. But as the Internet has expanded its global reach and increased its attractiveness as an environment for business, Profiles International has transitioned to a pure web application and web services model, delivering its products and services in real time over the web, without incurring the challenges of technical support, version management, and fulfillment that are typical with the traditional software distribution model.

The web-based business model has, however, put mounting pressure on the company’s ability to sustain its IT structure—notably, its web servers. Accelerated product development cycles have put stress on its development and test servers. A growing corporate infrastructure also has put pressure on email and other communication and collaboration servers.

By 2008, the company’s infrastructure consisted largely of about 70 computer servers at its headquarters in Waco, Texas, serving both corporate and product development needs, and another collection of servers, at a hosting provider 170 miles away in San Antonio, to support its web presence and software distribution. These servers were managed by the company’s IT staff of eight.

As the size of the infrastructure grew, so did the periodic costs of hardware replacement. To mitigate that expense, Profiles International extended its replacement cycle to between five and six years—but that added to the risk of hardware failures. Provisioning a new server—from ordering a new machine to receiving it, configuring it, and deploying it—could take 12 days. That increased the time and expense of software development, which reduced the amount of testing that could be conducted. These expenses and delays in the production environment meant that the company was poorly positioned to support rapid changes in customer demand, and it often put off software upgrades until necessary. As a result, the company’s servers ran on a variety of operating systems, starting from Windows Server 2000.

Profiles International wanted to reinvest its earnings to expand its competitive advantage in its core business—assessment solutions—not to build ever-larger technology infrastructures. But its growth threatened to require continued investments in infrastructure.

Solution
To solve its issues, Profiles International decided to adopt virtualization technology. By running virtual servers, or machines, on physical servers, or hosts, the company could mitigate many of its infrastructure issues at once. Virtualization promised better utilization of hardware, leading to fewer physical servers, greater agility in provisioning and deprovisioning test and development servers as needed, reduced deployment and maintenance costs, and greater scalability.

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*Microsoft made a compelling argument for looking at Hyper-V. And the more we looked, the more it looked like a deal we couldn’t walk away from.*

Sia Ahmadzadeh
Senior Vice President, IT and Product Services, Profiles International

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The company cast about for a technology with which to implement its vision of virtualization. Because an IT staffer had familiarity with VMware, Profiles International adopted it. Seeking the most cost-effective option, the company adopted VMware ESXi freeware.

When Microsoft released Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V technology, Profiles International had reason to revisit its choice. The company found the Microsoft virtualization software to be more powerful than the freeware it had been running—for example, Hyper-V promised better hardware utilization. And Hyper-V was included in the license for Windows Server 2008 R2; with the Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise edition that Profiles International contemplated, the company could run four virtual machines on a single physical host without any licensing cost beyond that for the operating system.

Profiles International was ready to upgrade its server operating system software to a consistent, current standard, so it found Windows Server 2008 R2 attractive, even without the Hyper-V technology, which would be a bonus. On the other hand, if the company upgraded its existing virtualization software to VMware ESX, it would also gain greater performance, but at the cost of a separate license fee—and without the benefit of upgrading and standardizing its server operating system.

“Microsoft made a compelling argument for looking at Hyper-V,” recalls Sia Ahmadzadeh, Senior Vice President, IT and Product Services at Profiles International. “And the more we looked, the more it looked like a deal we couldn’t walk away from.”

Profiles International began in March 2010 with a test deployment of Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V. It provisioned its first server and tested it for two weeks. At the end of that time, Ahmadzadeh and his colleagues were convinced that they were on the right track to realize their virtualization vision.

“Even if you only know virtualization as a concept, you can have a virtual server provisioned and ready for an operating system install in minutes,” Ahmadzadeh says. “I’m convinced that there’s not much more to it than turning it on.”

The company is now in the midst of moving virtually all of its workloads to Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V, including Microsoft Exchange Server 2010, Internet Information Services 6.0, and Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0, as well as third-party software from Intuit, Symantec, and Sage. The minor exceptions are a few custom applications that need to be rewritten before they can be moved.

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*Even if you only know virtualization as a concept, you can have a virtual server provisioned and ready for an operating system install in minutes.*

Sia Ahmadzadeh
Senior Vice President, IT and Product Services, Profiles International

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Once the move is completed, the physical servers in the company’s hosting facility will be reduced by 85 percent. Most of those are organized in load-balanced pairs so, if a virtual machine for a specific workload fails on one physical host, its mate can keep the system up and running without disruption or downtime. IT staff can also use the architecture to take one virtual machine out of service for planned maintenance, again without disrupting its workload.

To manage the virtual environment, Profiles International uses Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2. IT staff uses the software to provision servers, change the distribution of computing resources, move virtual machines from one physical host to another, and monitor the environment. “We can see the entire virtual environment, spanning two physical networks, on one pane of glass,” says Ahmadzadeh. “That’s something we never had before.”

The server environment is not the only thing that has gone virtual at Profiles International. The company has deployed Remote Desktop Services (RDS), another virtualization technology available in Windows Server 2008 R2. Profiles International uses RDS in a traditional session virtualization scenario (formerly known as “Terminal Services”), in which users work with a virtualized Windows 7 client.

IT staff members use RDS to access desktops with Microsoft Visual Studio 2010, SQL Server Management Studio in Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2, and other tools while traveling. This helps developers to work remotely while keeping source code securely onsite at the company, and they can quickly receive additional computing resources (more memory, more CPU cycles) without the need for additional hardware. Sales personnel use RDS to access Microsoft Dynamics CRM while on the road.

The company now is testing Microsoft Application Virtualization (App-V) technology to give users access to Microsoft Office 2010 software—it will be the first time that Profiles International will deploy Microsoft Office software virtually, rather than physically. “If we just stream Microsoft Office from our servers, we eliminate the management overhead of having to periodically update a sea of deployments,” says Ahmadzadeh. “Along with our use of Windows 7 and the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack, it helps get us to a managed desktop with more consistency, standardization, and security—and less of the traditional pain points of desktop management.”

Benefits
Profiles International is using Hyper-V to reduce IT costs while increasing its IT capacity.

Reduces Provisioning Time by 95 Percent
Ahmadzadeh and his colleagues wanted to better manage their growing infrastructure—rather than to be increasingly managed by it. They’ve achieved that core success by using Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V. For example, provisioning a new server, formerly a 12-day process, is now managed in a few hours. Ahmadzadeh estimates average provisioning time is reduced by 95 percent.

The time needed to troubleshoot the virtual environment has declined as well—even compared to VMware. Profiles International maintains its “four nines” reliability with half the personnel time that it required with VMware. Because the architecture is largely the same, Ahmadzadeh credits the Microsoft virtualization software. Troubleshooting a computer that has crashed used to be a 30-to-45-minute process. The company would call the hosting provider, open a trouble ticket, and wait for the provider to get to the computer and restart it. Now, the company restarts a computer and has it up and running within 5 to 15 minutes, a time savings of at least 67 percent.

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*If we just stream Microsoft Office from our servers, we eliminate the management overhead of having to periodically update a sea of deployments.*

Sia Ahmadzadeh
Senior Vice President, IT and Product Services, Profiles International

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“We have a backlog of projects to accomplish,” says Ahmadzadeh. “Now that we spend so much less time on putting out fires, we can spend more time on projects that contribute to business growth and success.”

The increased agility shows up, for example, in better customer support. With faster troubleshooting, the web server that a customer hits is more likely to be up and running. With faster time to provision a server, Profiles International is able to meet increased demand more quickly. Customers also get new products more quickly because the development process isn’t held back by waiting for increased resources; customers even get better products, because developers can develop and test more product iterations without taking more time or money to do so.

Ahmadzadeh sees a recruiting benefit from the greater agility, too. “As we increase our development staff, we’re finding talented people who want to work for us—but who don’t want to uproot their families and come to Waco,” he says. “The second or third question we often hear is ‘can I telecommute?’ With this robust virtualization environment, our answer is ‘yes.’”

Reduces Cost by 28 Percent Compared to VMware
Profiles International has also succeeded in reducing the total cost of ownership for its virtualization environment. Much of that savings is related to the productivity gains in the IT department. Other savings come from reduced hardware costs—the company now hosts just 15 percent of the physical servers at the hosting provider, and maintains 50 servers at corporate, down from 70. Overall, the count of physical servers has been reduced by 47 percent. Those reductions are reflected in reductions in the operating expenses needed to support the servers, and will periodically be reflected in reductions in the capital expense needed to replace them.

The savings achieved by Profiles International comes not only from switching from physical to virtual servers—but also from switching from VMware to Hyper-V. By using Hyper-V, it can make more effective use of its hardware. As a result, the company has seen a 28 percent reduction in the monthly bill from its hosting provider.

“We’re saving 28 percent month after month on our hosting bill, thanks to our use of Hyper-V,” says Ahmadzadeh. “Hosting is one of the top technology expenses we have, so this is a very significant savings—it’s huge. It’s what made it possible for us to meet our aggressive goals for cost reduction in 2010. And it is definitely a subject of discussion among our C-level executives. This savings is the best indicator that we picked right when we picked Hyper-V.”

Meanwhile, at its headquarters, Profiles International is seeing even more cost savings. The reduction in server count has enabled the company to reduce the rack footprint by one third. That has resulted in reduced spending on electricity and cooling systems, as well as less consumption of valuable office space.

Supports 29 Percent Capacity Increase with Half the Resources
The benefits that Profiles International sees today from its move to Hyper-V virtualization are just a platform for greater benefits to come. It supports the business’s rapid growth, without the need to rapidly build out infrastructure and expense.

At its headquarters, the reduced rack footprint does not just help solve today’s issues. Because it does not need to expand its rack footprint and its cooling system, Profiles International now has the space it needs to support 10 years of business growth, Ahmadzadeh estimates. In the hosting facility, even with the 47 percent reduction in physical servers, the company now hosts 29 percent more virtual servers than it had physical servers before the move. The current physical count is sufficient to support growth for the next several years and, when more physical servers are needed, each one will be 5 to 10 times more powerful with virtualization, which will keep costs down.

“Six months ago, I used to ask if a workload could benefit from virtualization,” says Ahmadzadeh. “Now, with Hyper-V, I ask if there’s any reason a workload shouldn’t be virtual. That’s how much of a change Hyper-V has brought to us. We wanted IT to be a net contributor to the company’s growth. With Hyper-V, that’s what we are.”

Microsoft Virtualization
Microsoft virtualization is an end-to-end strategy that can profoundly affect nearly every aspect of the IT infrastructure management lifecycle. It can drive greater efficiencies, flexibility, and cost effectiveness throughout your organization. From accelerating application deployments; to ensuring systems, applications, and data are always available; to taking the hassle out of rebuilding and shutting down servers and desktops for testing and development; to reducing risk, slashing costs, and improving the agility of your entire environment—virtualization has the power to transform your infrastructure, from the data center to the desktop.

For more information about Microsoft virtualization solutions, go to:
www.microsoft.com/virtualization

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 Profiles International products and services, visit the website at:
www.profilesinternational.com

Customer Size: Medium Organization
Industry: Professional Services
Country or Region: United States
Solutions:
  • Windows Server 2008 R2
  • Microsoft Hyper-V
  • Microsoft Exchange Server 2010
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2
  • Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0
  • Windows 7
  • Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack
  • Microsoft Internet Information Services 6.0
  • Microsoft Internet Information Services 7.5
Organization Profile:

Profiles International, based in Waco, Texas, provides innovative human resource management solutions to help companies develop and retain high-performance workforces. It has 165 employees.

Business Situation:

The company’s success and changing business model spurred infrastructure growth. Profiles International wanted to avoid the costs of buying and maintaining more hardware.

Benefits:

  • Reduces provisioning time by 95 percent
  • Reduces cost by 28 percent compared to VMware
  • Supports 29 percent increase in capacity

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