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Royal London Asset Management deploys VMWare

Arif Mohamed

Royal London Asset Management (RLAM), part of Royal London Mutual, is a fund management firm responsible for around £30bn of client assets.

The firm has turned to virtualisation to cut costs and make IT efficiencies.

RLAM started looking at the concept of virtualisation at the beginning of 2008 as the firm's IT manager Dennis Leeks attended seminars on the subject.

"I realised we had experienced a lot of growth over the last two to three years as a company, and we were buying a number of new servers for specific applications," said Leeks.

As a result, RLAM's IT department was quickly running out of rack space, as well as facing growing problems with its air conditioning.

"The number of servers was putting a real strain on the air conditioning, and it failed a couple of times last year," said Leeks.

As he investigated virtualisation as a way of consolidating rack space, he began to develop a broader business case, with the help of Panacea Services, a virtualisation consultancy to city-based companies.

The VMWare consultancy helped Leeks to make the business case to RLAM's chief executive officer, who had to sign off the virtualisation programme.

The main attraction for the chief executive was the green computing aspect.

"In implementing the technology, and virtualising over 20 servers, we worked out we would save the equivalent of 6,600 trees, which is equivalent to taking 300 cars off the road in terms of carbon output," explained Leeks.

The plan also showed how RLAM could cut IT costs from consolidating applications onto fewer physical servers. For example, the technology would allow RLAM to consolidate three database servers onto one, reducing licensing requirements and producing immediate cost savings.

"We looked at the costs quite carefully, and estimated a return on investment in three years, and a saving of £75,000 in five years.

"The attractive thing from my perspective is that it's purely an IT project which gives us a return on investment without me having to cut IT staff," said Leeks.

In addition, the firm would be able to introduce more efficient disaster recovery.

"By taking advantage of the benefits that a virtualised infrastructure will give us, we calculated that we should be able to recover servers in a matter of hours, much quicker than before."

Virtualisation also gives RLAM a more flexible environment to support future growth. The firm has gone through three acquisitions in the past few years, and having a virtualised IT system would make integrating systems from other companies much easier, Leeks argued.

Server provisioning is also faster with virtualisation, with Leeks estimating it will take half a day, as opposed to several days, to bring new servers online.

We can create identical servers to the live ones, on the fly, which means our testing can be much more stringent, and recovery on a file and sever level are both faster, which reduces downtime," he added.

The chief executive signed off the business case for VMWare in August 2008, and the firm has now embarked on the road to virtualisation. In September, Leeks put his four infrastructure technicians into training for VMWare, and began to implement a new storage area network.

The programme is now underway, and aims to virtualise in excess of 20 server applications.

This includes a core front-office portfolio management system called thinkFolio, which is supported by VMWare.

"It is a highly intensive, high usage trading and analytics application. But we will only virtualise it when we are fully comfortable."

Other server applications that are being virtualised include Outlook Web Access, Windows Terminal Services, Sharepoint Portal Server and a 50-user BlackBerry Enterprise Server.

Leeks is also planning to virtualise the firm's 180 user seat Microsoft Exchange Server.

"The difficulty there is that there will have to be some downtime, and users won't like that," he commented. Another key server will be the file and print server, which Leeks plans to virtualise in February 2009.

The plan is to complete the virtualisation programme by the end of March, by which time all but six servers will be running on VMWare.


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