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Irish County Council finds value and peace of mind with Hyper-V

Published: May 2010


On a limited budget, Louth County Council has transformed its IT environment using Microsoft Hyper-V and virtualisation tools that have helped the IT department build an infrastructure with high availability that is much easier to manage

Situation

Located on the east coast of Ireland, between Belfast and Dublin, County Louth covers an area of 317 square miles and is home to over 100,000 people, many of them living in the three main towns. Louth County Council, based in County Hall, Dundalk, is the administrative hub for the region.

An in-house IT team of nine delivers services to the council’s 400 knowledge workers out using a centralised infrastructure model that supports 24 different sites across the county. Like many organisations, the council was suffering from server sprawl as new applications and services were introduced in an ad hoc way to meet changing business needs. The council had 65 servers, 24 of them dedicated to SQL services alone. There were many instances of one server running a single application.

“The environment had got out of hand. Our main focus was on consolidation of our existing Microsoft SQL environment, but cost savings and a greener operation were also high on the agenda,” said Eugene Mulholland, Head of Information Systems, Louth County Council.

A local government initiative to encourage sustainable energy management was a big driver. “A lot of the council’s power usage, even off-peak at night, was down to the server room so we were under some pressure to cut it back,” he said.

Poor performance was another factor, with just five per cent utilisation on some servers and a sprawling environment that made it difficult to manage the processing power in a more dynamic way. Finally, the complex IT environment was proving difficult to run with the IT team forced to fire fight problems rather than invest their time in preventative maintenance.        

Eugene Mulholland knew that a virtualisation strategy would allow him to consolidate servers and cut energy costs while creating a more flexible environment. It would be better for council business and easier to manage, but with only a small budget he didn’t know if it was achievable.

Solution

The biggest challenge for Louth County Council’s IT department was squeezing more efficiency out of its 24 SQL servers to better manage the data that underpins its business systems. The decision was taken to migrate to a new virtual platform, run on two physical servers, using Microsoft Hyper-V.

Under the guidance of Microsoft Consulting Services, the council invested in Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V and Microsoft SQL 2005 Enterprise. “We reviewed their SQL environment and gave them a plan to migrate from physical servers to a highly available Hyper-V cluster,” said John Ennis, Microsoft Engagement Manager. “The objective was to reduce costs both in terms of licensing and hardware while giving them high availability and business continuity.”

Through a Microsoft licensing programme that involved other local authorities, the council’s investment was kept to a minimum, something that would not have been achievable with other virtualisation solutions.  And the Microsoft products were a perfect fit for the requirement.  

Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V facilitates the consolidation of multiple server roles because separate virtual machines can reside on a single physical machine. Microsoft SQL Server 2005 empowers organisations with tools to better manage their data to ensure mission-critical information is secure, highly available and easier to mange.

Using the two products the council’s server estate was reduced from 65 physical boxes to 25. The migration was carried out over a month with a Microsoft technician on site for just two weeks. The rest of it was handled by the in-house team who quickly got to grips with reprovisioning existing HP servers to run virtual machines with Hyper-V.

“There was a transfer of learning from the Microsoft expert which worked very well. It was an easy learning curve and we found Hyper-V very intuitive to deploy,” said Eugene Mulholland. “And we were able to use existing servers which helped keep the costs down.”

Benefits

The Hyper-V cluster has given Louth County Council wide-ranging benefits, some realised from the outset of the deployment, others that will take time to filter through. Reduced server racks cut power costs as the council does more with less and ticks an important box around the council’s green agenda.
High availability and a first class disaster recovery solution are instant wins that give the IT department peace of mind. If one server goes down, it fails over to another node and the service continues seamlessly.  

John Ennis believes it is one of the biggest benefits. “With the Hyper-V environment the council now has insurance against outage. Before, they had systems running on one physical server and if it went down they had a big problem. It could take a long time to recover,” he said.

Routine IT functions, such as maintenance and backup, are also easier to manage, not only because there are less physical servers but because the Live Migration feature in Windows Server 2008 R2 allows the council to move virtual machines from one physical computer to another as they are running, with no interruption to the service. This is a huge benefit for Mulholland and his team. Routine maintenance can be carried out without downtime.

As well as benefiting the end users with high availability, Mullholland was particularly pleased at the way that Hyper-V has been adopted by the IT team. “Sometimes the big challenge is not the technology but getting people comfortable with using it. It hasn’t been a problem with Hyper-V because it is very easy to use and we could quickly see the benefits from an IT management point of view. It has made our jobs easier.”

Going forward, the ability to quickly provision new services on virtual machines will be another big win for a local authority that wants to continue to innovate in its delivery of IT services. “We can now do something that used to take weeks in minutes,” said Mullholland.

Summary

In a difficult economic climate, the challenge for many organisations is trying to achieve greater efficiencies through new technology while they are constrained by reduced IT budgets. Eugene Mulholland knew that a virtualisation strategy was right for Louth County Council but he was not sure he could afford the investment.

 “We thought it would be a couple of years before we could get the funds to go down the virtualisation road, because we had looked at some of the products out there and had to park the idea,” he said. “But then we talked to Microsoft about Hyper-V and it proved to be a lot less expensive than we expected. We are delighted with the solution.”

 

Solution Overview

Organisation
Louth County Council

Customer Profile
Louth County Council provides local government services to 24 sites across 317 square miles in County Louth, Ireland

Industry
Public sector, local government

Business Situation
Server sprawl and an inefficient infrastructure, particularly around SQL servers, were undermining IT service delivery and costing too much in terms of maintenance and power consumption

Solution Description
Consolidation through virtualization, to improve the performance and availability of SQL servers in particular

Benefits

  • Server consolidation
  • Reduced power consumption
  • High availability and business continuity
  • Ease of management and server deployment
  • Use of Live Migration to make better use of physical resources

Microsoft Software
Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V
Microsoft SQL 2005 Enterprise

Country/Region
Ireland


For More Information

About Microsoft in Ireland:
The Irish Sales, Services and Marketing Operation of Microsoft was established in 1991. The full-time team market all Microsoft products and services in the island of Ireland, targeting customers both North and South. The team services customers across all segments including enterprise, small and medium sized businesses and home computer users. In addition to developing desktop products, Microsoft provides tailored consultancy services and solutions to suit enterprise businesses. Microsoft is continuing to concentrate on its relationship with the Irish enterprise market - the top 100 companies in the island of Ireland. Enterprise customers of Microsoft include the Department of Education in Northern Ireland and the Civil Service Commission, Dublin.
For more information on Microsoft’s products and solutions, please visit www.microsoft.com/ireland

About Microsoft:
Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq "MSFT") is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

 

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