Posted: 2010.05.12.

Magyar Posta Zrt.

Real Benefits in a Virtual Environment

The IT background system increases the competitiveness of Magyar Posta by offering more flexible, highly available and cost-effective operation, and the virtualization implemented using the Microsoft Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V solution supports the system even further. Not only the achieved cost savings are compelling, the environmental effects are also tremendous, the emission of harmful materials was reduced by 50%.

Microsoft’s products guarantee, that we can implement the latest technologies, but it is also essential, that these systems serve the interests of the enterprise.
Miklós Kovacsics
Director of the IT Services Center,
Hungarian Post

Background

Magyar Posta Zrt. conducts international postal activities based on applicable law. The founder of this universal postal service provider is the Minister of Transport, Communications and Water Management of the Republic of Hungary. The permanently government-held share portion in the company is 100% of the share capital, the proprietary rights are exercised by the Hungarian State Holding Company (Magyar Nemzeti Vagyonkezelő Zrt.). The headquarters of Magyar Posta Zrt. are located in Budapest, the company’s net sales revenue was 194 billion HUF in 2008, with the earnings before taxes reaching 8.8 billion HUF in that year. At Magyar Posta an IT Services Center is responsible for all development and operational tasks in the IT field.

The Business Issue

“In the early phases of the organic IT development at Magyar Posta, the company operated decentralized IT centers, thirteen of them,” explains Miklós Kovacsics, Director of the IT Services Center. “Due to the articulated, isolated arrangement, decentralized systems were formed, and all systems ran on standalone, individual hardware. We centralized the IT organizations between 2000 and 2002, but this step did not result in any great changes in the infrastructure hosting the systems.”

“Two years later, in 2004, we formulated the ‘server farm’ concept, which aimed at eliminating this resource and cost squandering solution. The idea was to create a server farm, the better utilization of which was to be achieved by virtualization. The first step was the physical concentration and homogenization, which resulted in mixed-use server and data storage capacities being made available to the ‘co-located’ applications, thus improving the utilization of resources. However, the infrastructure formed this way (KAS – Központi Alkalmazás Szerverpark, Central Application Server Park) still did not provide the desired flexibility, so the consolidation of hardware resources was followed by software-based virtualization in 2008.”

Microsoft announced the beta version of its Microsoft Server 2008 Hyper-V product at this time. This virtualization solution was still new on the market, but it already included all results, experiences and benefits gained in the field of virtualization so far.

“The planning of the deployment of the first virtual systems started at the beginning of 2008, when Magyar Posta launched its Postapartner program,” remembers Zsolt Bene, Senior Systems Engineer at Magyar Posta. During this multi-year program, the company –following the Irish example – transfers postal services at selected geographical locations to contractors (Postapartners). The program called for providing connectivity to the supporting IT system to and making possible the daily work of 1500–1800 users. An Internet-based application (KMR – Közreműködői Rendszer, Contributors’ System) and sufficient hardware background needed to be developed to enable remote access to postal applications, and high availability to support 24/7 operation. The system under consideration was to be realized with minimal investment, but it had to provide cost-effective operation and sufficient flexibility to connect new users and applications. There were also physical limitations to consider, as the capacity of the central server room at Magyar Posta was limited. The IT Services Center also stated an additional requirement, namely that the desired solution had to fit into the state-of-the-art IT infrastructure in place at the company.

In order to comply with all requirements, the obvious and foremost solution was a virtualized infrastructure.

I think Magyar Posta is a suitable partner for Microsoft, providing them the possibility to view their applications not only from the developers’ perspective, but also from the users’ and enterprises’ point of view.
Miklós Kovacsics
Director of the IT Services Center,
Hungarian Post

The Solution

According to Zsolt Bene, Senior Systems Engineer, several manufacturers’ different virtualization applications were put under scrutiny, and the cost/value ratio was the most important consideration before reaching a decision. Eventually, Microsoft Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V (in beta at the time) was chosen.

Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V builds on a 64-bit hypervisor-based technology, which enables effective management of increasing workloads on both 32-bit and 64-bit architectures. Using Hyper-V, under-utilized physical servers can be consolidated into virtual servers running on a single physical server, so the work of several under-utilized physical servers can be performed by only a few optimized servers. Since the servers running as virtual machines on Hyper-V hosts can be managed in the same way, with the same tools, as physical servers, there is no need to retrain the operating staff when consolidating the resources with Hyper-V.

“Virtualization by itself will not lead to results, it has to be managed. Experience shows, that virtual images can start proliferating in an untraceable manner. If we do not have a suitable management tool, nobody will be able to track and control them,” summarizes the experiences Zsolt Bene.

Magyar Posta undertook to manage the developed system themselves, and purchased the Microsoft System Center solution suite for this purpose. The entire environment is managed with System Center Operations Manager, and protected by System Center Data Protection Manager, which performs backup tasks, while System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2 provides a comprehensive overview of the entire system.

As we familiarized ourselves with virtualization and the benefits offered by Microsoft’s solution, and gathered hands-on experiences during operation, we decided to implement the virtualization of other applications at Magyar Posta, as well.
Zsolt Bene
Senior Systems Engineer,
Hungarian Post

The Deployed System

“The implementation of the Postapartner program was only the first step in the virtualization process at Magyar Posta. As we familiarized ourselves with virtualization and the benefits offered by Microsoft’s solution, and gathered hands-on experiences during operation, we decided to implement the virtualization of other applications at Magyar Posta, as well,” continued Zsolt Bene.

Magyar Posta also formulated a new business requirement: They wanted to launch a direct marketing campaign, which involved mass mailings four times yearly, and they expected large scale registration for the program. The requirement was that the system had to be able to serve 15,000 concurrent users, and manage 400,000–500,000 registrations and subsequent logins monthly. Cost-effective servicing of the Web application was also implemented using virtualization in this case.

In the next step, the posta.hu Web site and all other postal portals were moved to virtual infrastructures, which was followed by the virtualization of the central application environment. This environment was developed in 2005, but before virtualization, newer and newer servers were purchased for each IT infrastructure required by the new services. These servers were deployed even if they were only utilized to a minimal degree. After the implementation of the second phase of the ‘server farm’ concept, ISZK provides the resources required by the systems through virtualization. Currently 60% of the postal services are running in a virtual environment, this ratio will reach 80% by the end of this year.

Secondary server room

The next step was the completely virtualized implementation of the enterprise development and testing environment. For this task a secondary server room was installed to provide comprehensive redundancy of the services, as required by the Hungarian Financial Supervisory Authority (PSZÁF) – Magyar Posta has been operating as a financial service provider since applicable law was changed in 2009. Under normal operating conditions, the secondary server room mirroring the existing systems works as a test environment for developers and users. It only takes over the primary role, and functions as a server for the applications in case of system failures. This way the secondary server room providing backup and failover functions can also be utilized. The backup for 540 physical hardware resources is provided by only 8 physical machines – obviously in a virtual environment.

Microsoft Hungary proved to be an excellent professional partner, they registered us into a central program, and as beta testers we received development support directly from their headquarters in Redmond.
Zsolt Bene
Senior Systems Engineer,
Hungarian Post
Benefits, measurable business profit

“With the introduction of virtualization, we managed to further increase the already high availability of postal systems,” says Zsolt Bene. “Magyar Posta currently works with 894 Postapartners, but this network is being expanded, and considering the growth rate, the number will reach 1500–1600 by the end of this year. We do not have to acquire new devices to service the increasing demand, the implemented system can efficiently service it.”

A less expected benefit of virtualization was the increase of flexibility. A new user can be immediately connected to the system without any delay. Also, IT resources can be immediately provided to business applications, and the purchase of new hardware devices can be considered later. If the deployments had to wait for the hardware acquisitions, they would be considerably delayed, and would not be competitive. As a government-owned enterprise, Magyar Posta purchases its required devices through a public procurement procedure, which can take up to 120–150 days, so the launch of an application would be delayed this long. The increased competitiveness means that Magyar Posta is prepared for the liberalization of postal services required by the European Union.

It is also worth mentioning, that Magyar Posta achieved financial savings with the introduction of virtualization, as they did not need to purchase more hardware devices.

Currently 274 virtual operating systems are running at Magyar Posta on 36 physical servers in the operating environment. Without virtualization 274 servers would be needed. The savings on hardware devices amount to 550 million HUF, 300 million HUF less was spent on software, so the total savings reach 850 million HUF. Considerable savings were also achieved in the amount of consumed electric power, as consumption was reduced to about half of the amount required before virtualization. It is also important to mention, that the reduced energy consumption protects the environment from unnecessary carbon-dioxide emission, the implementation of the virtual environment resulted in a 55% reduction of carbon-dioxide emission.

The secondary server room services 360 virtual images on 8 physical servers. This secondary server room also serves as the backup for the 80 business critical applications. There was also no need to employ more professional staff, the entire virtual environment is managed and operated by seven employees.

A virtualization project should never be delimited by boundaries, as it never really ends. If an enterprise starts on this path, and experiences all the benefits of virtualization, they will try to implement all other IT projects this way.
Zsolt Bene
Senior Systems Engineer,
Hungarian Post
Direct support

“Microsoft’s products guarantee, that we can implement the latest technologies, but it is also essential, that these systems serve the interests of the enterprise,” explains Miklós Kovacsics, Director of the IT Services Center. “The chosen solutions resulted in significant cost savings. The applications also provide business benefits that improve the effectiveness of Magyar Posta, and ensure the competitiveness of Magyar Posta even after the postal liberalization coming in the not too far future.”

“Microsoft is a strategic partner of Magyar Posta, 90% of the IT technology we use is provided by Microsoft, their products are present everywhere, from the desktop systems to the server environment. The planning of our IT systems is preceded by strategic think-tank sessions, the detailed scrutiny of the usage possibilities of applications already existing or soon appearing in Microsoft’s product portfolio. I think Magyar Posta is a suitable partner for Microsoft, providing them the possibility to view their applications not only from the developers’ perspective, but also from the users’ and enterprises’ point of view,” concluded Miklós Kovacsics.

“I admit, at the beginning we were somewhat anxious to deploy an application still in beta phase,” explains Zsolt Bene. “But Microsoft Hungary proved to be an excellent professional partner, they registered us into a central program, and as beta testers we received development support directly from their headquarters in Redmond. We retained the quality of support after the final release of the product, from that point support was provided by Microsoft Hungary. Thanks to the good experiences with the implementation of Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V beta, we decided on the same procedure with the System Center solution last year: We deployed the product in beta phase, with support from Redmond, while the specialists of Microsoft Hungary helped us with the final version. A virtualization project of such a scale provided useful experiences to Microsoft and Microsoft Hungary, as well, we all learned from the process. Cooperation with the professional staff of Microsoft was exemplary, together we found a solution for all challenging issues in a very short time.”

“A virtualization project should never be delimited by boundaries, as it never really ends,” concludes Zsolt Bene. “If an enterprise starts on this path, and experiences all the benefits of virtualization, they will try to implement all other IT projects this way.”

Solution Overview