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Northern Ireland utility service reaps the benefits of Microsoft Hyper-V


Microsoft Hyper-V was the enabling technology that helped cut costs and increase efficiency when NI Water decided to virtualize its servers as part of a move to a new data centre. The biggest virtualization project in Ireland at the time, it heralded the arrival of Microsoft as a key player in one of the most exciting areas of IT

Published: April 2011

Situation

Set up in 2007 as a government-owned company to replace a civil service body, Northern Ireland Water is responsible for providing water services to a population of 1.7 million across the region. Part of its new found autonomy meant that it had to move its applications and servers out of a state-owned data centre in County Armagh.

Faced with the options of renting space in a third-party facility or moving the equipment into some of its own real estate, NI Water chose to use a building it owned on the outskirts of Belfast. With just 6x8 metres at it disposal there was a need to rationalise the delivery infrastructure while maintaining quality of service to 1500 users located at over 30 sites.

Colin Daysh, ICT Programme Director, saw it as an opportunity to consolidate a complex environment that suffered from server sprawl. Like a lot of organisations, an investment in a new application was usually followed by buying another server to run it. As a consequence, 90 servers were running over 40 applications. Worse still, they were running at just 2 per cent utilisation. These are precisely the problems that virtualization technology was built to address by running multiple applications on a single server.

 “We wanted to get everything into a much smaller footprint and run it as efficiently as we could. 15 to 20 per cent server utilisation is considered a driver for pursuing a virtualization strategy so we knew that it was the way to go,” said Daysh.

As well as better utilisation and a smaller footprint, Daysh was also looking to virtualization for reduced power consumption and a more resilient disaster recovery (DR) solution.

Solution

Through a managed service built on VMware, NI Water already had some experience of virtualisation.  When Daysh was weighing up which product to buy for the next wave, he had the option of going back to the recognised market leader or trying Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V. Upgrades to the Microsoft product suggested that Hyper-V was maturing rapidly and the best way to go.  
  In the first phase of investment, NI Water worked with Business & Scientific Services (BSS), one of Microsoft’s leading partners in Northern Ireland, to implement a 12 node Hyper-V R2 cluster run on 12 Dell Blade Servers with a NetApp SAN. The infrastructure was designed, built and successfully installed in its new data centre within a demanding six month timeframe. It culminated in moving 53 physical servers, virtualizing 23 and decommissioning the rest.
“The nice thing about this kind of migration is that the physical version of the hardware is still there so you can switch back to it if there is a problem in the virtualization process,” said Daysh. “As it turned out, we never had to resort to our rollback plan. Virtualizing was carried out seamlessly with users having no idea that it had taken place.”
With Hyper-V, virtualization was deployed with clustering technologies to provide a robust IT infrastructure with high availability and quick disaster recovery. A 12 node Hyper-V cluster was deployed across 2 sites to provide fault tolerance and disaster recovery using the secondary site.
Tools like Virtual Machine Manager, part of the Microsoft System Centre suite of products, addressed the management challenge of virtualization, along with Live Migration which allows the IT team to move a running virtual machine from one physical host to another without any disruption to the service.
At the end of the first phase, server utilisation had increased to over 60 per cent. In a landmark virtualization project for Ireland, critical applications were running out of a more cost-effective data centre with higher availability and greater levels of resilience.
After the first six months it was obvious that Microsoft Hyper-V R2 was a mature technology platformand a serious contender in the virtualization space and the decision was made to progress with the second phase, which was to use Hyper V as the production platform for the new Data Warehouse Project.   This consisted of completely virtualised test, dev, UAT and production environments running multiple SQL and Biztalk application servers.

The biggest endorsement for its decision to virtualize with Microsoft came with the decision to migrate the existing VMWare images to the Hyper-V farm and to use Hyper V as the virtualisation platform to provide a DR capability for all key NI Water business applications.

Arthur Crawford, Head of IT operations for NI Water, was equally impressed: “Hyper-V has given us the ability to rapidly roll-out new applications and enabled faster provisioning for new projects.  Feedback from our internal stakeholders is that this has dramatically improved the service we provide back to the business.  The ease of management of Hyper-V has minimised any impact of reskilling for my team and has resulted in a seamless transition from supporting the previous VMWare platform.  We have also introduced a second 12 node Hyper V cluster and are in the process of consolidating and virtualising a further 100 physical servers. This solution has more than doubled our capacity while replicating it across two sites has allowed us to maintain business continuity to a degree that was not possible before”.

Benefits

By choosing Microsoft for its virtualisation strategy, NI Water will have reduced the number of server racks by four and dramatically improved server utilisation. Other benefits include:

  • Reduced power consumption and a smaller hardware footprint
  • Enhanced resilience of the server infrastructure
  • Ease of management and server deployment
  • Use of Live Migration to make better use of physical resources

 

Standardising on Microsoft reduced the total cost of ownership and by using System Centre, provided the ability to centrally manage the entire infrastructure more effectively. As the old VMware environment is phased out, there is no longer a need for separate skills to manage two different environments or support separate hardware.

For Daysh one of the key benefits is that the IT department no longer needs to buy new hardware every time the business wants to introduce a new application. Server sprawl is a thing of the past and virtualization has provided a far more flexible IT environment with much improved server utilisation.  “Combined with reducing space requirements and saving power, we now have higher availability. If one Blade goes down, the hosted images move seamlessly over to another blade without the end user being aware that something has happened.” said Daysh.

Hyper-V is also enabling a more resilient DR solution. NI Water is currently expanding the current solution and spreading it over two geographically dispersed locations to provide full DR in the event of a data centre failure in either location. Business continuity can then be maintained in a way that was impossible before.

Summary

The decision by NI Water to invest in what at the time was perceived as a less mature virtualisation solution has been entirely vindicated. Not only was the transition seamless, thanks to the careful planning the NI Water IT team, benefits have been quickly realised. The success of the first phase delivered more efficiency through physical consolidation. In phase two, the decision to move to a single virtualization platform has been rewarded with further reductions on the total cost of ownership and a degree of flexibility and DR capability that in the past would not have been available.

“The combination of Microsoft’s Hyper-V R2 technology and the expert delivery of the NI Water IT team have ensured this project has been a complete success story,” said Colin Daysh. “At this point the default for all new applications is to virtualize them on Hyper-V in what is a very stable, enterprise-class production environment. Hyper-V just works.”

Solution Overview

Organisation
Northern Ireland Water

Customer Profile
NI Water is a government-owned company providing water services to a population of 1.7 million

Industry
Public utility service

Business Situation
NI Water had to relocate its backend servers and applications and chose to have its own purpose-built data centre

Solution Description
Virtualization was a core part of the initiative, using Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V

Benefits
- Reduced power consumption and footprint of hardware in the new data centre
- Enhanced resilience of the server infrastructure.
- Ease of management and server deployment
- Use of Live Migration to make better use of physical resources

Microsoft Software
Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V and Virtual Machine Manager 2008, part of the Microsoft System Center suite of products

Country/Region
Northern 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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