VMware server consolidation saves London borough thousands

By consolidating servers with VMware, the London Borough of Hillingdon has saved thousands in power, hardware and IT personnel costs.

Three years ago, the London Borough of Hillingdon decided the council was in need of a complete IT overhaul after its building ran out of power. It turned to VMware to aid its transition from a physical past to a virtual future and the VMware server consolidation saved thousands of pounds in IT costs as a result.

Roger Bearpark, assistant head of ICT at the council, admitted that the change was needed, but that the company was well aware it would not come without several risks.

Located in a building built in the 1970s and using any assortment of technology that had been purchased since then, the council had no idea how many servers it had. "We did not know the exact number of servers. All we knew was that our building was completely out of power," said Bearpark.

The IT department had heard that virtualisation was making headway at the time, with more people using it in test and development environments. But Hillingdon decided to take virtualisation one step further and launch it into a live environment.

Moving to a virtual environment
As the number of servers at Hillingdon continued to grow, the IT department considered adding yet another one, but the council soon realised it no longer had that choice. "When we looked into it, we found what we call 'the million dollar server' -- it was not a case of simply adding one more server anymore. We had run out of space and needed a new rack and power for it. This was costly, and we came to the conclusion that this was not an option," said Bearpark.

We did not know the exact number of servers. All we knew was that our building was completely out of power.

Roger Bearpark,
assistant head of ICTLondon Borough of Hillingdon

The council turned to virtualisation consultancy Insite, which provided it with a proof of concept for a virtualisation deployment. Bearpark said this was hugely successful in showing the council how it could save on space and power. Insite preformed capacity planning for the company to demonstrate how to draw less power, run fewer servers and turn the air conditioning down.

Over the next few months, Hillingdon implemented two Compellent storage area networks (SANs) and built a VMware virtual server environment.

The council initially started with 150 virtual servers and four physical servers. After embarking on the VMware server consolidation project, Hillingdon has 200 virtual servers and four physical servers.

"You need to have confidence in your infrastructure," said Bearpark. "We keep four physical severs, as not everything runs in a virtual environment, but I tend to ask if something works with VMware now before I invest."

He claims the IT department now has greater contact with the business but is still able to deal with its end users' ICT issues. "The work which we now consider part of the routine would not have been deemed possible three or four years ago," Bearpark said.

Aligning IT and the business
Hillingdon anticipated the need for more staff due to the council's 100% year-on-year data growth. However, no extra members were added to the team. Instead, the team was restructured around one ICT project manager instead of several project specialists. This enables the IT department to put together specific teams when needed, so there can be representatives from the desktop support team, the business analyst team and so on.

According to Bearpark, this enables the team to see an angle of the business that it would not normally see. The team restructure also gave staff the opportunity to discuss concerns, which boosted confidence in the project.

VMware server consolidation results in data centre cost savings
Hillingdon claims to have saved £20,000 by reducing power consumption from 34 kWh to 1.1 kWh. By not needing to expand the IT team, the council claims to have saved a further £50,000.

Server hardware has been reduced by 97% and disk space requirements by 45%, saving £6,500 a year in power costs by moving data onto less-expensive, energy-efficient drives.

The London Borough of Hillingdon recently received Network Project of the Year at the 2009 U.K. Network Computing Awards, which recognised the council's use of Compellent's SANs to replicate space-efficient, continuous snapshots between its two sites without disrupting the main program flow. "This provides us with disaster recovery functionality at a much lower cost than other replication solutions available," said Bearpark.

Looking to cloud computing
Bearpark said the council is now focusing on plans to move applications into the cloud. "We started by virtualising our servers, but we do not intend to stop there. We are looking into personal and private clouds inside our own virtual data centre.

"Like when we first decided to start this virtualisation journey, we knew that we could not sit still and had to take a risk. Do not wait for the light at the end of the tunnel. Make sure you understand your existing infrastructure, the power you draw from it, and develop from there."

Kayleigh Bateman is the site editor for SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.uk.

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