4-page Case Study - Posted 11/2/2009
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Construction Firm Virtualizes Servers to Boost Agility and Availability, Cut Costs
PEAB is a leading Swedish construction and civil engineering firm serving the Nordic region. To keep up with rapid business growth, PEAB needed to accelerate server deployment and keep critical applications running at all times. The firm deployed the Windows Server® 2008 Datacenter operating system with the Hyper-V™ technology to take advantage of server virtualization. PEAB uses Microsoft® System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 to create and manage virtual machines. By augmenting physical servers with virtual machines, PEAB has reduced server deployment time by 87 percent and can respond more nimbly to business needs. Because failover clustering is easy and cost-effective with Hyper-V, PEAB can ensure high availability for more applications. Using the Microsoft software, PEAB expects to trim hardware purchases by 40 servers annually and staff management time by 280 hours annually.
PEAB is one of the Nordic countries’ leading construction and civil engineering companies, building commercial facilities, residential housing, roads, bridges, and other large-scale projects, and also manufacturing construction machinery. Founded in 1959 by two Swedish brothers, PEAB today is headquartered in Förslöv, Sweden, and has approximately 15,000 employees and annual sales of 35 billion S.kr. (U.S.$5 billion).
As the business grew and became more dependent on computerized applications in areas such as finance, manufacturing, project management, and customer management, PEAB watched its server holdings soar and IT work multiply. “In 2008, we delivered about 100 servers—about two a week—to fulfill new business needs,” says Jan Johannesson, Technical Manager for PEAB. This brought the firm up to about 250 servers in its main data center, with another 40 to 50 in branch offices.
||With Hyper-V, we have much greater flexibility in responding immediately to business needs. The business is not waiting on IT.
||Jan Johannesson, Technical Manager, PEAB
The time it took to deploy and manage servers became a bottleneck. “We wanted to reduce the time our IT staff members spent on routine server deployment chores so they could be more productive on higher-value tasks,” Johannesson says. “We wanted to find ways to be more efficient and to transition off of old hardware more easily.” It took a full workday to deploy a server, including unpacking, testing, racking, and installing the software.
“This was repetitive work that consumed time that my staff could spend doing more valuable tasks such as enhancing our network and better managing our infrastructure,” Johannesson says. “Plus, if a server shipment was delayed, it delayed the IT staff’s ability to give the business the tools it needed to move forward.”
The IT staff was also challenged to keep critical applications available around the clock. PEAB ran both the Windows Server® 2008 and Windows Server 2003 operating systems on its servers and used Windows® clustering technology for the company’s most critical applications. A computer cluster is a group of linked computers that act as a single computer; clusters both back up one another’s workloads and provide better performance. The IT staff wanted to extend clustering to more applications, but it was too expensive to purchase the needed hardware and too much work to implement.
Saving money was another business imperative for the IT staff. It wanted to avert an expensive data-center expansion and the associated high electrical costs. “Our data center, built in 2006, was filling up rapidly; by 2009, it was 70 percent full,” Johannesson says. “We moved to the more compact 1U-size servers to save space, but the next step was virtualization.”
Server virtualization is the creation of servers in software. These virtual machines are completely independent of one another and can run separate operating systems and applications. However, all virtual machines in a physical host server share the host processing and memory resources, which better utilizes these often-underutilized resources.
PEAB had used server virtualization in its development and test areas, running Microsoft® Virtual Server 2005 as its virtualization software. However, the firm did not expand the use of this early virtualization software because, says Johannesson, “The administration tools were insufficient for managing large-scale production systems, and there was no support for multiple processors and clustering.”
Built-in Virtualization Software
In 2009, when server proliferation emerged as a major business impediment, PEAB revisited the virtualization market and evaluated both VMware and the latest virtualization offering from Microsoft—the Windows Server 2008 operating system with the Hyper-V™ technology. Hyper-V is a server virtualization technology built into three 64-bit editions of Windows Server 2008 that eliminates the need for third-party virtualization software.
“Since Windows is our operating system platform, it was logical for us to select Hyper-V,” Johannesson says. “Microsoft had a very promising evolution path for Hyper-V, and it was much less expensive than VMware. With Windows Server 2008 Datacenter, we would obtain unlimited virtual-machine licensing, which represented a big savings.” Windows Server 2008 Datacenter provides unlimited Windows Server–based virtual-machine licensing and support for clustering, among other high-end features.
Nine Servers Hosting 52 Virtual Machines
PEAB worked with ATEA, a local Microsoft Gold Certified Partner with Hyper-V expertise, to install three dual-processor HP ProLiant BL460 blade servers and an HP StorageWorks 8100 storage area network. These three blade servers are configured as a cluster on which PEAB has created 19 virtual machines. PEAB has also installed Windows Server 2008 and Hyper-V on six standalones servers running a total of 33 virtual machines.
All host servers run Windows Server 2008 Datacenter, and the virtual machines run Windows Server 2008 Standard and Enterprise, Windows Server 2003, and Windows 2000 Server as guest operating systems.
||Microsoft had a very promising evolution path for Hyper-V, and it was much less expensive than VMware.
||Jan Johannesson, Technical Manager, PEAB
“We are working hard to accelerate our P2V [physical-to-virtual] migration,” Johannesson says. “The applications running in the cluster require high availability, and test and non-mission-critical applications run outside the cluster. Our goal is to fill up our first cluster, which we think can accommodate 40 virtual machines, and then start a new cluster. With each new generation of hardware, we’ll be able to create even more virtual machines, so our efficiency will continue to increase.”
To date, PEAB has virtualized a variety of application workloads, including Microsoft Office Communications Server mediation servers, a delivery-truck tracking application, and a variety of infrastructure services. The IT staff is focused first on getting rid of old hardware and poorly utilized servers that run a single application. “With virtualization, we can get away from the ‘one application per physical server’ strategy, which is expensive,” Johannesson says.
Virtual-Machine Management Tools
PEAB also deployed Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008, part of Microsoft System Center data center solutions, to centrally manage its virtual machines. System Center Virtual Machine Manager provides automated virtual machine provisioning, physical-to-virtual migration tools, virtual machine performance tuning, and dynamic movement of virtual machines from one host to another.
“System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 provides a full suite of virtual machine management functions that earlier generations of Microsoft virtualization software did not have,” Johannesson says. “It makes it easy to manage a complex virtualization environment from a single console.”
PEAB uses Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 to automatically deploy security updates to both physical servers and virtual machines, and will evaluate Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007, a server monitoring tool. “With the combination of System Center Virtual Machine Manager and System Center Operations Manager, we could tune and share compute resources between virtual machines to maximize server efficiency,” Johannesson says.
By embracing server virtualization in its data center, PEAB has gained greater business agility through server-deployment efficiencies. It has also been able to extend high availability to more applications, providing greater business continuity. Using virtualization as a key data center strategy, PEAB expects to trim hardware expenditures by 40 physical servers annually and server management work by 280 hours annually. Using virtualization to reduce the rate of server growth and electrical consumption also helps PEAB be a better environmental citizen.
Greater Business Agility
Johannesson’s staff can deploy a virtual machine in less than one hour versus the eight hours required for a physical server, an 87 percent speedup. “With Hyper-V, we have much greater flexibility in responding immediately to business needs,” Johannesson says. “The business is not waiting on IT. Going forward, almost all new servers will be virtual machines.”
Virtualization also solves the problem of applications sitting on aging hardware and developing reliability and performance problems. “We can move applications to the latest hardware without doing anything to the application,” Johannesson says. “Before virtualization, older applications often became stranded on older hardware. Or, we would move the applications to newer hardware but have to engage in time-consuming testing to ensure that they were compatible with new operating systems. Virtualization enables us to move the entire environment, including the older operating systems, to a new hardware platform. Applications that used to run on older hardware then run much faster.”
Extension of High Availability to More Applications
With the simplified failover clustering capabilities of Windows Server 2008 Datacenter and Hyper-V, PEAB can engineer high availability for more applications. “We were already using failover clustering with Windows Server 2003, but it was complex to set up,” Johannesson says. “It’s much easier to do with Hyper-V, so we can move more applications into a high-availability environment. This provides greater business continuity across more areas of the company.”
Hardware Purchases Reduced by 40 Servers Annually
In its initial round of virtualization, PEAB has been able to eliminate 52 physical servers by creating 52 virtual machines on just nine physical hosts. The hardware savings will continue as PEAB virtualizes more systems. “We expect to buy 40 fewer physical servers each year with the move to virtualization,” Johannesson says.
Plus, because multiple virtual machines share common processor and memory resources, server utilization improves with virtualization and PEAB gets much more work out of each server investment. “We currently have 19 virtual machines in our three-node cluster, and it has growing room for another 27,” Johannesson says. “We still have plenty of processing power left on that cluster.”
IT Gains of 280 Hours Annually
It now takes less than one hour to deploy a virtual machine, versus the eight hours it took to deploy a physical server. At a deployment rate of 40 servers a year, PEAB can look forward to eliminating 280 hours of repetitive deployment work annually. “Our staff can now spend more time proactively helping business users, enhancing our network, and devising more effective disaster recovery responses,” Johannesson says. “We can also grow our infrastructure without hiring staff as rapidly.“
Thanks to flexible Microsoft licensing options, PEAB is saving approximately $11,000 per cluster node on operating system licensing by using Windows Server 2008 Datacenter.
PEAB has worked hard to be a leader in “green,” or environmentally conscious, building construction and in handling hazardous materials safely. “But now we are able to contribute environmentally from our data center as well, by reducing electrical consumption,” Johannesson says. By eliminating 40 servers annually, Microsoft estimates that PEAB will save more than $24,000 in energy costs each year.
Microsoft virtualization is an end-to-end strategy that can profoundly affect nearly every aspect of the IT infrastructure management life cycle. 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:
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