Server virtualization and SAN for high availability trading at SIHL

Server virtualization, along with a SAN helps Ahmedabad-based Shah Investors to achieve high availability levels for its trading application.

Broking firm Shah Investors Home Ltd (SIHL) wanted to establish a high-availability environment for its Open Dealer Integrated Network (ODIN) trading and risk management platform. High availability of ODIN is absolutely critical, as it executes 30,000 to 40,000 trades daily on behalf of the company's clients through a computer-to-computer link with Indian stock exchanges, as Jinal Shah, the IT manager at Shah Investors, points out.

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Shah Investors wanted to deal with three basic issues: production server availability, resource sharing capacity for optimum use of physical resources, and planned downtime. While evaluating various solutions, Shah realized that server virtualization would address these three basic requirements. In December 2008, Shah Investors decided to engage Avnet Technology Solutions India as the implementation partner. At this point, the company considered three leading vendors for server virtualization, VMware, Citrix and Microsoft. Shah did not find proper representation from Citrix and Microsoft. "As we were planning to put business critical applications in a virtualized environment, I wanted a complete proof of concept," says Shah. "Only VMware's channel partners were able to give us a live demo of our applications. Hence we decided to go with their solution."

Avnet Technology Solutions helped design and deploy VMware Infrastructure for Shah Investors' most business applications. While considering server virtualization, Shah Investors also realized a need for robust storage backend, and hence decided to design fiber channel based SAN storage. Explaining the need behind SAN storage, Shah says: "In case of server virtualization, it is advisable to have storage at a centralized location. Also, in the high availability environment, it will be very difficult to transfer data from one server hard disk to another in case of server failure."

Earlier, Shah Investors used ten HP servers to run ODIN and exchange application, as well as its SQL database. Now, it runs 10 virtual machines hosted on three Dell blade servers. These servers, along with a backup machine, are supported by EMC's SAN storage with fiber channel connectivity (CLARiiON AX4-5 storage system) with 2.1 TB capacity. Says Shah: "The servers are designed in a failover cluster fashion so that if one of the three Dell servers is down, the application can be easily moved to the next available sever."

Shah Investors had to invest Rs 15 to 20 lakh in the server virtualization solution, while SAN storage took almost Rs 6 lakh of investment. The company plans to leverage this investment over period of three to four years.

SIHL has been able to increase average CPU utilization from the current level of 25-40 percent to 60 percent while achieving a server consolidation ratio of 3:1.
Jinal Shah
IT ManagerShah Investors

Improved performance

Shah Investor's Home Ltd has been able to optimize its existing servers by increasing average CPU utilization from the current level of 25-40 percent to 60 percent while achieving a server consolidation ratio of 3:1. The combination of virtualization running on servers with multi-core processors has improved performance by 30-40 percent. It has also helped the company switch memory and CPU capacity to support database processing once a trading day is over, while reducing power and cooling costs by 20 percent.

According to Shah, the backup process has become extremely lucid now, as they just need to take snapshot of each server. The earlier manual backup process which required three administrative people is now handled by single software. The backup window has also been reduced to three hours (from five hours).

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