Bombay Stock Exchange’s server consolidation journey

BSE recently consolidated its servers and began its cloud computing journey. Find out more about BSE’s server consolidation initiative in this case study.

When Kersi Tavadia became Chief Information Office (CIO) of Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) Limited in November 2010, his aim was to achieve high-availability for IT, while saving on costs. An initial inventory of the company’s three datacenters revealed that more than 80% of the company’s servers were utilizing less than 20% of their capacity. “This put a lot of pressure on IT to improve efficiency. Our non-stop trading environment and various new technology initiatives raised the need for scalability,” Tavadia says.

BSE required more commodity servers while containing costs, so it opted for server consolidation and virtualization. A proof-of-concept of the server consolidation and virtualization system was done in April 2011, and the project went live in July 2011.

BSE uses a hybrid mix of HP UNIX and Windows Intel server farms. The UNIX farm being smaller, the scope for savings from consolidation was lower. So BSE focused on consolidating the Windows Intel farm of more than 200 servers. BSE began server consolidation with non-trading applications such as the settlement system and collateral management systems. Server consolidation at the application, hardware, and networking layers was given priority.

Step 1: Application servers
BSE's legacy servers were consolidated in phases. Non-customer facing web application servers were consolidated first, so that only internal management would be impacted in case of issues.

The stock exchange has around sixteen applications handling Web trading, mutual funds, BSE Star MF, BSEIndia Book Building, VFS - Broker, BSE Electronic File System (BEFS), and various BSE websites.  Earlier, each application had its own server and load balancer, and BSE used its network management system (NMS) to gauge server criticality and utilization levels. “Accordingly, we planned our Web trading system, the BSEIndia FASTRADE, to ensure it had enough power and scalability,” Tavadia says.

BSE has now consolidated around six applications on its servers. Some systems such as the NMS also required add-ons and open source tools for management.

At present, BSE is building a private cloud for non-critical applications. Most of the utility systems and applications like patch management, antivirus, sales, and email have already migrated to the cloud.

Step 2: Standardization of development platforms
Standardization helps in troubleshooting applications and understanding software functioning patterns. The BSE IT team worked with Microsoft to leverage the full capacity and power of commodity servers.

There was a mismatch between the operating system and the databases and applications, which was resolved by switching all application software to a 64-bit platform. “We forced all our application developers to move to that platform. It had become critical to have a standardized development platform before we move to the cloud. It was challenging at first, but it was necessary,” says Tavadia.

Step 3: Consolidation of database platforms
Today, BSE uses all the leading database management systems. At the moment, the exchange is working towards standardization on three database platforms.

BSE began database server consolidation with the hardware side, since it doesn’t directly impact the end-user. The company currently has more than 200 servers on the Intel platform running databases, testing, development, and applications. Its target is to bring the number down to 40.

Although BSE has consolidated these servers, the number of physical servers remains the same. These servers are dormant, and have been preserved for emergency use. Since server consolidation is still in at an early stage, the old servers act as a backup, and will be moved out after four quarters. Servers used for patch management and antivirus have already been discontinued.

Step 4: Server virtualization
According to Tavadia, BSE is experimenting with both VMware and Hyper-V hypervisors for the virtualization initiative. BSE is taking an application-centered approach, since certain applications work best on VMware, while others perform better with Hyper-V. Other applications work best in standalone and non-virtualized configurations.

At the moment, BSE is trying to get more out of the infrastructure, and create a good quality testing environment. Earlier, it would assign low-end PCs to users to act as a server. With server consolidation, BSE can give importance and standard technologies to everyone in the development team.

“Server standardization and consolidation is a journey; not an act within itself that you perform and get it over with. It is constantly evolving.”

-- Kersi Tavadia

Savings all the way
According to Tavadia, BSE's annual maintenance cost (AMC) has been cut by 20–30%, and it has laso reaped several licensing cost savings. More space has also been freed up in the BSE data centers.  

IT management has become easier for BSE’s technology team, thanks to server consolidation. Earlier, it would take four weeks to buy and set up servers at BSE, but deployments have become much faster.

Overcoming user apprehensions
Server consolidation has its learning curve, and user acceptance was a big challenge for BSE. With server consolidation, application developers also had fears of losing their management freedom, since many applications must reside together on a single server. Developers worried that a change in one application may affect the other applications in the consolidated server environment. The migration of applications to a cloud server was also a challenge, as there was a lot of internal resistance. Kersi and his team had to manage these concerns as part of the preparation for this project.

What’s next?
As the next step, BSE plans to implement a single sign-on system for its member brokers. Network consolidation is also under evaluation. “We are fighting for millisecond responses, and latency is the core issue. In a traditional system, we have many layers of networks. We want to revamp our complete network architecture, right from the desktop to multiprotocol label switching (MPLS), a complete end-to-end solution,” says Tavadia. BSE hopes to achieve 50% of its set IT targets by the end of financial year 2011.

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