Server virtualization eliminates pain-points at Apeejay Surrendra

Under-utilization of servers and difficulty in server management makes the Apeejay Surrendra Group opt for server virtualization.

Starting off as steel importers in 1910, the Apeejay Surrendra Group has since spread its wings into hotels, real estate, construction, retail, financial services and pharmaceuticals. In 2008, when the company faced the difficulties of managing a large number of servers, the IT team started looking for a solution -- and soon found it in server virtualization.

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Apeejay Surrendra had amassed around 40 servers across different categories over the years -- business applications, database, messaging, workflow, gateway and security. Manageability of these servers and low utilization of server CPUs were becoming constant pain-points. Recounting the period when the company decided to go in for server virtualization, Subhashish Saha, the group's CTO says, "In the ongoing economic scenario, it's killing to have server CPU utilization of only 15% to 20%. We realized that it would not be possible to continue this way for long. Still, we did not want to jump the gun and opt for server virtualization, but instead decided to take it slowly."

The company chose VMware ESX as its server virtualization platform. Since one of its group companies, Oxford Bookstore, had already chosen VMware in 2007, selecting VMware at the group level was an easy choice. There was yet another good reason to go in for the ESX version rather than VMware ESXi. As Saha explains, "If we had opted for ESXi, redundancy between servers would have been an issue. We wanted to have seamless interoperability, and to obtain that, it was better to have a self-managed version of ESX than the automated version." The ESX version gives access to the operating system, and can be tweaked.

The implementation level consisted of 12 servers in the database category and 12 in business applications. The remaining servers were distributed among messaging, workflow, gateway and security. Since the last two categories included servers that require intensive management, these were migrated first. Four servers each from the two categories were migrated. Around July 2008, four business-critical servers were also brought on to the server virtualization platform. Out of the 40 servers, 22 have been virtualized so far. The remaining 18 servers still run on a standalone basis. Out of these, 10 will probably be shifted to a virtualized platform in 2010.

The utilization of server CPUs, which was earlier in the range of 15% to 20%, is now 70% to 80%
Subhashish Saha
CIOApeejay Surrendra Group

IBM was selected as the implementation partner. Two physical servers from IBM and HP are being used for server virtualization at the moment. These servers have a hard disk capacity of 900 GB each, with 12 GB RAM. These physical servers host 10 and 12 virtual machines respectively. At the back end, IBM DS4700 SAN storage is being used. These virtual machines are being managed by a VM client, and an IT infrastructure manager handles the day-to-day monitoring. The implementation was completed in three and a half months.
 
The successful payoff
The server virtualization project now reaps multiple benefits for Apeejay Surrendra. To start with, the utilization of server CPUs, which was earlier in the range of 15% to 20%, is now 70% to 80%. The group's data center is located in the heart of Kolkata, which meant that space was an issue. This was resolved after server virtualization.

However, the cherry on the cake has been ease of manageability. There have been many situations wherein Saha's team members have been able to downgrade or upgrade the power of an individual virtual machine. "It is the flexibility that we have really started enjoying," says Saha.

However, if Apeejay Surrendra were to do the entire implementation again they would like to do it a bit differently. "I think we were very defensive about the implementation at the beginning. Along with the security and messaging servers, we should have also taken one business application server," explains Saha. The main reason for this change is his confidence in the IT team when it comes to moving the company's servers to a virtual server platform.
 
When it comes to advice for his peers, Saha recommends that in the first phase of a server virtualization project, one server from every server category should be selected. Thus, right at the start, one knows which category will work on a virtual server platform and which will not.

In the future, Apeejay Surrendra will add more storage as it increases the number of virtual servers. For now, with the current infrastructure of virtual servers, the going seems good for the next three years (till 2013).

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