2 page Case Study - Posted 10/4/2013
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Edgenet

Data Services Provider Upgrades Operating System to Boost IT Management Efficiency

Edgenet, a technology company focused on product data, wanted to further refine its IT management capabilities, especially those related to virtual machines. The company upgraded to a prerelease version of the Windows Server 2012 R2 operating system and found that many of the features—from tiered Storage Spaces to Hyper-V Replica—will help streamline IT management while also reducing costs and providing better service to end users.

Business Needs
When some of the largest retailers and search engines want richer product data to help engage shoppers and increase sales, they turn to Edgenet. The company develops web-based software that optimizes product data and provides shopping feed management. Edgenet also provides visual and guided selling solutions that allow businesses and consumers to make retail decisions based on timely, accurate product information.

As a growing company, Edgenet does all that it can to take advantage of technological innovation to keep its IT staff size small. Just five people manage the company’s data-intensive infrastructure, which includes a private cloud of server clusters at three offices, its primary data center, and its disaster recovery data center—a total of 9 clusters and approximately 38 nodes in all, with up to 480 virtual machines in place.

As of 2012, Edgenet ran its servers on the Windows Server 2012 operating system and Hyper-V virtualization technology, along with Microsoft System Center 2012. However, the company sought to refine its environment with regard to migrating virtual machines (VMs) and dealing with data storage. “We had been happy with the advancements in Windows Server 2012, so we were eager to experience the improvements that we learned about in Windows Server 2012 R2,” says Michael Steineke, Vice President of Information Technology at Edgenet. “It can take a lot of time to move around VMs as we build larger clusters, and operating system maintenance can trigger inefficiencies in our operating environment. We wanted to see how we could minimize the disruption caused by necessary maintenance and better manage VMs throughout our environment.”

Solution
In 2013, Edgenet adopted a prerelease version of Windows Server 2012 R2 to test the ability to configure more robust networking and clustering of hosted VMs. The company’s ultimate goal is to reduce or eliminate its disaster recovery data center by moving it into the cloud using Windows Azure in conjunction with Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2. In the meantime, Edgenet has been experimenting with several new or improved Windows Server 2012 R2 features.

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* Upgrading to Windows Server 2012 R2 has alleviated concerns about running large numbers of virtual machines—we’re getting a positive indication of what our future scale could look like. *

Michael Steineke
Vice President of Information Technology, Edgenet

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For example, the company appreciates the Dynamic Witness feature, which automatically adjusts the quorum configuration when nodes are added or subtracted from a Windows Server failover cluster. Edgenet used Live Migration over Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA) to offload the migration process to the network interface cards and save on CPU cycles. In addition, the company has put storage tiering, a feature of Storage Spaces, into limited production. Storage tiering makes it possible for solid state disks and traditional spinning disks to be combined into virtual volumes, with more active and recently used data automatically located on the faster solid state disks. Edgenet plans to change its configuration to take full advantage of the feature, which will eventually help Edgenet scale out its file server environment and get better storage performance while controlling costs.

The company has found that, with the latest version of Windows Server 2012, Hyper-V over Server Message Block (SMB) is easier to use and delivers faster performance than it did in the past. Edgenet also adopted a prerelease version of Microsoft SQL Server 2014 and is using Windows Server 2012 R2 to support cluster-shared volumes for a SQL Server cluster.

One of the features that Edgenet was particularly excited about was Hyper-V Replica, which makes it possible for running VMs to be replicated on an ongoing basis from one server to another (often at a secondary data center) and is enhanced in the latest version with variable replication frequency. In the event of an outage, the VMs on the secondary server can be used to quickly restore service. Edgenet looks forward to being able to use Hyper-V Replica in conjunction with shared Hyper-V virtual hard disk format (VHDX) between multiple VMs to simplify pass-through disks and make for a cleaner implementation.

The company’s plans also include upgrading to Microsoft System Center 2012 R2, starting with the Virtual Machine Manager component. “We’re right on the cusp of having enough machines to derive significant efficiency gains from using the System Center suite,” says Steineke.

Benefits
For Edgenet, the move to Windows Server 2012 R2 has been another positive step along the path toward optimum IT efficiency. “Upgrading to Windows Server 2012 R2 has alleviated concerns about running large numbers of virtual machines—we’re getting a positive indication of what our future scale could look like,” says Steineke. “We are experiencing greater uptime and higher levels of resiliency for our clustered infrastructure, and we can migrate VMs more efficiently and perform maintenance more easily.”

Increased IT Staff Efficiency
Thanks to some of the advanced features in Windows Server 2012 R2, Edgenet can continue to keep a lean IT staff. “We have to conduct maintenance tasks multiple times each week, so we do anything that we can to make it easier,” says Steineke. “The efficiencies within Microsoft products definitely help us keep our IT staff size the same, even with considerable company growth.”

Smoother, Faster VM Management
Because the company uses features such as Live Migration over RDMA, it can quickly move VMs without affecting performance. “Before upgrading to Windows Server 2012 R2, moving virtual machines among hosts could take hours, but now we only spend a few minutes,” says Steineke.Higher Level of Service to Customers and End UsersThe company expects to improve its time-to-market for the deployment of isolated customer environments due to the operating system’s new efficiencies. “If we can make sure that our virtual machines are maintained seamlessly—which we feel that we can do now with this latest version of Windows Server—we will be able to provide a better class of service to our customers and end users,” says Steineke.

Future Cost Savings
Edgenet anticipates that it will eventually be able to move its disaster recovery data center into the cloud, which would deliver substantial cost savings to the company. “We are confident that the new features in Windows Server 2012 R2 will help us get there,” concludes Steineke.

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Solution Overview



Organization Size: 200 employees

Organization Profile

Atlanta, Georgia–based Edgenet provides optimized product data to help suppliers, retailers, and search engines market and sell products more quickly.


Hardware

  • Dell PowerEdge R620 servers
  • NEC Express 5800/A1080a servers


Software and Services
  • Windows Server 2012 R2
  • Microsoft Hyper-V
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2014

Vertical Industries
IT Services

Country/Region
United States

Business Need
Cloud & Server Platform

IT Issue
Private Cloud

Languages
English

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