In just six months, Avis Norway replaced its dispersed IT setup of three data centres delivering similar services with a centralised IT infrastructure. Using VMware-based server consolidation, the project brought performance efficiencies and cost savings to the business.
The project was part of the car rental company’s turnaround programme to restore company profitability after three consecutive years of revenue losses. "One of the key initiatives for the IT team was to consolidate delivery of IT services," said Geir Johnson, the company’s information technology manager. Prior to the server consolidation, the company’s IT delivery platform was diverse, with two main data centres in Oslo and Copenhagen that delivered similar services to end users throughout Scandinavia.
Maintaining the distributed data centre estate was a time sink, and securely integrating the numerous OS platforms and versions in different delivery centres was time-consuming as well.
"Integration and coexistence across borders with unified business needs was an operational challenge and an obstacle to meet the changing business needs,” Johnson added.
There were other problems too. Load procedures were unique for every data store, and business information was dispersed, but both locations had identical business requirements for management and reporting tools. This increased complexity and made data management time-consuming and expensive.
As a result, the IT team was tasked with a server consolidation project to centralise its IT functions.
The team decided on VMware-based server consolidation, because its Oslo-based data centre had been using VMware since 2003 and had the technical expertise in-house.
The €100,000 server consolidation process
"Avis started to consolidate servers in each country through physical-to-virtual (P2V) server migration," said Kjetil Lund-Paulsen, the company’s IT operations specialist.
Before the IT team launched into the consolidation, it decided that all servers should run on VMware’s ESX 4.0 hypervisor version. It would use the same VMware tools it had used before migrating those tools into a single data centre at the Oslo headquarters.
“We used VMware Converter 3.0, installed a client on a physical server and took an online image,” Lund-Paulsen added. “We did several P2V [migrations] inside the different locations, then used vCenter 2.5 to do a virtual-to-virtual [V2V] migration into the new Norwegian data centre.”
Another problem: The IT team did not have complete control over the number of servers that ran different services at its sites or the business dependencies for them. “Just prior to the server consolidation, we found several servers that were just running one service,” he said.
The team also used EMC’s Avamar data dedupe software to address the data backup and recovery issues. “If the new VM [virtual machine] had a very big data disk, we did a restore to a new Virtual Machine Disk [Format] using Avamar when the VM was on the Norwegian site,” said Lund-Paulsen.
Previously, there was a 100 Mbps link between Copenhagen and Norwegian data centres. But following the VMware server consolidation, it began using WLAN for disaster recovery (DR) replication.
“We used V2V, but as we needed to speed up the migration of VMs that was more than 100 GB to 300 GB, we used Avamar to back up those data disks,” Lund-Paulsen added.
Consolidated infrastructure benefits
Avis now uses a data centre in Gothenburg, Sweden, to run its Scandinavian telephone system; the Copenhagen facility is a DR site and the Oslo-based facility is the main data centre facility.
With consolidation, the company now runs a standardised infrastructure that delivers services to more than 200 locations in three countries for 660 concurrent users. Its four-member core IT team manages technical infrastructure, networks and security; three other IT members deal with end-user support.
“The manpower reduction in IT is 35%, with a head count reduction from 11 down to seven employees. At the same time, the flexibility and ability to respond to new business requirements has increased,” said Johnson.
Among other benefits, all the data is centralised in one location. “In addition,” he said, “a lot of Windows Server licenses have been removed, and servers are far better utilised running multiple services in each.”
Avis has also seen the number of support calls related to service delivery platforms dropping which allows IT pros to focus on optimising the business processes and services. In addition, the company was able to cut down on service with just one Gold Support service agreement for EMC products and one hardware service agreement for Hewlett-Packard products. “Avis does not use external consultants in RAC infrastructure,” Johnson said.
The objective of the VMware-based server consolidation project was to reduce cost, improve service efficiency and maximise the use of IT resources. But the project had its challenges. “One hurdle was the short time frame coupled with a need to standardise IT while delivering uninterrupted service to our customers,” Lund-Paulsen said.
But clearly defining the goal and using the right set of technologies helped the team complete the project within the time frame and still ensures long-term flexibility for growth, Johnson explained.
Avis’ project won the award for best virtualisation and server consolidation project at this year’s Best of VMworld Europe 2011 user awards.
According to the judges, the project provided not only server cost reductions but also demonstrated that it can bring long-term cost reductions by cutting operational manpower costs to operate the previously distributed data centre estate. The sheer volume of transformation in a mere six months also impressed the judges.
Now that the company has benefitted from this large-scale VMware-based server consolidation project, the IT team is evaluating vCloud features for private cloud and hybrid cloud. “We are looking at using cloud services to further simplify users’ access to business services in the data centre,” Lund-Paulsen concluded.
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Archana Venkatraman is the Site Editor for SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.UK. Write to her at email@example.com