Omantel experienced growth across its services offerings since 2008. As a result, the demand for IT projects was at an all-time high, but its data center was at its physical capacity, and it took weeks for the IT department to provision servers. After first virtualizing with VMware, Omantel implemented the Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise operating system with Hyper-V technology and consolidated its servers by putting 10 virtual machines on each physical host. It implemented the Microsoft System Center suite of products to manage its infrastructure, and it plans to introduce a cost model wherein the IT department charges business groups for services-core components for a private cloud infrastructure. As a result, Omantel reduced its dependency on hardware, thereby helping the company to reduce costs, improve disaster recovery, streamline IT management, and improve business continuity.
Omantel is a telecommunications company that provides comprehensive communications solutions to the residents of the Sultanate of Oman. It offers mobile and fixed-line telecommunications services, along with Internet service and general connectivity solutions for both personal and business use. The company has 2,500 employees.
Omantel has experienced significant growth since 2008 across its subscriber base for mobile phone service and broadband, in addition to an explosion of mobile resellers and retail outlets. Even the demand for the company’s fixed-line telecommunication services has remained stable in the turbulent worldwide economy.
As the company continued to grow, so did its data centers. "There is high demand for new IT projects the more Omantel grows," says Salim Al-Mazrui, General Manager of IT for Omantel. "For each IT project, we would often procure a new physical server box." In fact, by 2011, Omantel had more than 150 servers, and there was no space to add more physical servers to its data centers. In addition, Omantel experienced other logistical problems, such as being unable to connect the servers because the network cables required did not come in lengths long enough to extend across the crowded data center.
Consequently, although there was a high-demand for new IT projects that required servers, Omantel had many servers that were underutilized. "We were wasting valuable server resources by not optimizing how existing physical servers were used and had utilization rates as low as 35 percent in some cases," says Al-Mazrui.
Procuring servers for new projects was also a time-consuming process at Omantel. "When we purchase new servers, it takes six weeks just to get the new hardware," says Al-Mazrui. "Then, we still have to set up and configure the servers for use, which adds weeks to the deployment process."
Faced with the problem that many successful, growing companies encounter when confronting limited data center space, the telecommunications provider knew that it needed to either make significant investments in new space or find a way to consolidate its physical infrastructure. Because Omantel keeps a close eye on costs, building additional data centers and filling them with underutilized servers that cost US$8,000 each and that were time-consuming to procure and configure was not an attractive option.
In August 2009, Omantel first decided to virtualize some of its server infrastructure using VMware, to help reduce the physical space requirements in its data center. However, most of the company’s other business-critical infrastructure was built on Microsoft products and technologies, including the Windows Server 2008 operating system, and the company wanted a single-vendor solution as a way to both control costs and to streamline IT management.
In May 2011, Omantel decided to further optimize its infrastructure and implemented Microsoft virtualization technologies. It took advantage of its Microsoft Enterprise Agreement for licensing and implemented the Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise operating system with Hyper-V technology.
The company used Datacenter Services, a portfolio of solutions from Microsoft Services and technology partners that helps businesses transform data centers into strategic business assets. Microsoft Services provided support for the company’s transition to Hyper-V, helping Omantel plan and implement the environment and also providing training on the features of the hypervisor. "The consultants with Microsoft Services are highly skilled professionals and have in-depth knowledge of Hyper-V, which was a new technology for us," says Al-Mazrui. "They helped us get started by transferring their knowledge to us so that we could continue with the virtualization efforts on an ongoing basis."
Omantel started by virtualizing aging servers that had long-expired warranties and that were scheduled for replacement. "After working with Microsoft Services, we were able to easily migrate our old servers to Hyper-V," says Al-Mazrui. "The process was smooth and easy, and we migrated to a virtual environment without disrupting business operations." Now, the IT department evaluates requests for server workloads, such as for test environments, and adds virtual machines as needed, instead of going through the arduous process of ordering, setting up, and configuring new hardware for each request.
By December 2011, Omantel had 200 virtual machines running on 20 physical hosts and plans to continue its virtualization efforts on an ongoing basis. Omantel runs a variety of workloads in its virtualization environment, including business software, web applications, and five instances of Linux, and now has server utilization rates as high as 70 percent. The company plans to virtualize up to 85 percent of its entire server infrastructure using Hyper-V going forward.
Omantel also implemented Microsoft System Center products and technologies. Specifically, Omantel implemented the beta version of the Virtual Machine Manager component of Microsoft System Center 2012, which it uses to automatically provision virtual machines for its Windows and Linux environments, and to centrally manage all of its virtual machines. It also uses Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 R2 to centrally manage its client computing environment, including for deploying operating systems, and Microsoft Forefront Endpoint Protection 2010 to safeguard its IT environment. Omantel is also evaluating Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2 to take advantage of centralized reporting functions for its IT environment. The company also plans to implement Microsoft System Center 2012 Configuration Manager and Microsoft System Center 2012 Operations Manager in the near future.
With server virtualization, automated provisioning for both Windows Server operating systems and Linux systems, and centralized management of its environment, Omantel is well on its way to building a private cloud infrastructure where IT is delivered as a service. In fact, the IT department is pursuing a chargeback cost model to demonstrate cost-effectiveness and transparency to the business. With a charge-back model, the IT department will charge business groups for the specific IT services it provides. As such, in addition to implementing the technologies that help it to optimize its infrastructure, the IT department at Omantel has transformed into a strategic business asset.
By adopting a server virtualization strategy built on Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise with Hyper-V technology and System Center products and technologies, Omantel reduced its dependency on physical server hardware. As a result, the company reduced costs, improved its disaster recovery strategy, and streamlined IT management. In addition, the IT department can better support the growing company by quickly responding to business needs.
Reduced Costs Associated with Servers
Omantel consolidated its servers through virtualization and freed up valuable space in its data center so that it does not have to pay for expanded physical space to house its growing server infrastructure. Instead, the company puts up to 10 virtual machines on each physical server, which not only saves space but also helps conserve energy and reduce electricity costs. In addition to saving space in the data center, Omantel also avoids costs for new server hardware and operating system licenses each time it needs to deploy a new server. Instead, the company can deploy multiple virtual machines on one physical box, and with Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise, it can deploy five virtual instances on one license-or 80 virtual instances for the 16 licenses it has purchased so far. "Nearly every cost associated with servers is reduced with virtualization through Hyper-V," says Al-Mazrui. "We use less power, fewer hardware and software licenses, and fewer network cables, and we require less physical space."
Improved Disaster Recovery
By using Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V, along with Virtual Machine Manager, Omantel improved its ability to recover from a server failure. "We lessened our dependence on server hardware by using Hyper-V," says Al-Mazrui, "and can easily back up our virtual machines and restore them from a backup 40 percent faster with the Virtual Machine Manager component of Microsoft System Center 2012."
Improved Business Continuity
Before implementing a server virtualization strategy, the IT department at Omantel had to procure, set up, and configure servers for new business initiatives, including for test and production environments. The time-consuming process meant that business users had to wait up to six weeks in some cases for their environments to be up and running. Now, with virtualization, the IT department can quickly respond to requests for servers by deploying virtual machines on existing hardware. "We can keep up with the business," says Al-Mazrui. "By using Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V, we can deploy a virtual machine for just about any new project much more quickly."
Streamlined IT Management
Omantel streamlined IT management by virtualizing its server environment and managing the environment with System Center products and technologies-from day-to-day IT tasks, such as provisioning and managing servers, to logistical issues like maneuvering around the crowded data center. "Now, we have centralized management with System Center products, which helps simplify how we manage our environment," says Al-Mazrui. "Plus, by virtualizing, we don’t have to hassle with physical hardware in a space-constrained environment."
Windows Server 2008 R2
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