Virtualization of servers sets different flavor for Godfrey Phillips

The cigarette company went in for virtualization of its servers—but for a rather unusual reason. Take a look at this slightly out-of-the-box tale.

One can only marvel at the number of reasons why different organizations go in for virtualization of their server infrastructure. Earlier, virtualization of servers was only for cost savings and space savings, but now the list is becoming longer with an unusual touch every now and then. Contributing to this list is Godfrey Phillips India. Operating in the consumer industry, Godfrey Phillips manufactures tobacco, cigarettes and tea. The company was incorporated in 1936, and is headquartered in New Delhi. It has manufacturing facilities in Delhi and Mumbai.

In 2009 it was time for Godfrey Phillips to upgrade its data center—perfect timing to go in for the virtualization of its servers as well. According to S R Balasubramaniam, the company's executive vice president for IT & corporate development, "Server virtualization was very right from various perspectives in our data center tapestry. The most roundabout effect virtualization of servers had, was on our data center cooling."

To get into the details of Godfrey Phillips' server infrastructure, the company has four server racks. There are around 46 physical servers, and, along with the virtualized servers, the count goes up to 100. The organization has three HP blade centers, which are on a VMware server virtualization platform (VMware ESX 4.0). The decision in favor of VMware was made mainly because of Godfrey Phillips' association with HP, which also happens to be a VMware partner. Microsoft had also approached Godfrey Phillips, but since the organization uses Windows as well as the Linux platform, it preferred VMware, which is supposed to be ideal to virtualize these server platforms.

Godfrey Phillips has put its Oracle databases and database application (WebLogic) on its virtualized servers, but it's not running Microsoft Exchange since it's not supported on VMware.
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Commenting on their chosen version of VMware for virtualization of servers, Balasubramaniam says, "The earlier version of VMware had certain limitations in terms of resource allocation in the CPU. This version has better allocation in terms of the CPU. The slicing of the physical core has been increased as well. Now in one physical core we can deploy 12 servers as against six earlier. This version was the right fit for virtualization of our servers."

Savings on power and cooling was one of the main reasons why Godfrey Phillips chose server virtualization. However, in a roundabout way, they also wanted to virtualize servers because it led to better cooling. Now, that is one not so common reason to go in for virtualization of servers.

Another reason to virtualize servers was to deploy patches on production servers. Explains Balasubramaniam: "Before doing patches on a production server, you need to think about it. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you don't. A similar environment is needed, so you build a clone of the production server, deploy the patches, see the result, and then decommission the server. Later, you again go to the production server and deploy it. This becomes very easy when you can deploy servers for such reasons on the fly using server virtualization."

Godfrey Phillips has put its Oracle databases and database application (WebLogic) on its virtualized servers, but it's not running Microsoft Exchange since it's not supported on VMware. It has also not put Oracle ERP production servers on VMware for the same reason. Better utilization of servers has come as an obvious advantage of server virtualization. These servers are connected to EMC and NetApp Storage with an Oracle database in the back end.
 
Managing virtual servers is not a problem for the Godfrey Phillips team; they use the VMware's management tool to manage the machines. The team has personnel trained by VMware and HP to manage the virtualized servers. The company's future plans include intentions to increase the reach of server virtualization.

Read more on Server virtualisation platforms and management

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