Changing virtualisation management strategy yields results for LSE

LSE had all the principles of a good IT strategy -- data centre consolidation and virtualisation. But without the correct virtualisation management tool, the project was doomed.

Despite a highly virtualised server infrastructure and a consolidated data centre, London School of Economics and Political Science was not finding all the IT efficiencies it needed. Turns out its existing virtualisation management tool failed to provide the data necessary to ensure that applications had the right resources allocated to them.

Its IT team ran and managed a virtualised data centre which comprised three clusters, 20 physical hosts, 564 virtual machines and approximately 38 terabytes of storage.

More than 80% of its infrastructure was running on the VMware vSphere platform, so the team used VMware vCenter management tool for monitoring and reporting purposes. But soon they realised that along with the growing adoption of virtualisation and SaaS, they had to change the way they managed and controlled the IT infrastructure.

“With the increase of virtualised servers within our environment, vCenter alone did not give us the intelligence we required to ensure the applications had the resources they needed,” said Danny Simpson, systems specialist for IT services at the school.

In addition, its existing tool was unable to project how the IT environment would respond to new workloads. This lack of knowledge meant that IT had to guess the impact of new workloads on the virtual infrastructure, and such guesswork is never a good practice, Simpson added.

As the dependency on virtual infrastructure grew, Simpson and his team wanted a virtualisation management tool that would ensure three things: appropriate resource-allocation to; information about the future workload growth; and that it would help IT determine the best way to allocate workloads across physical hosts.

But the requirements didn’t end there. Simpson also wanted a technology that could automate and control the infrastructure without requiring as much administrative effort. “…It should remove some of the uncertainty of managing the virtual environment and assist us in keeping the infrastructure optimised,” he said.

By automating control and improving resource utilisation, the IT team will be able to better meet the demands of its customers, he added.

Simpson and his team then selected VMTurbo Operations Manager after looking at a host of virtual infrastructure management tools in the market including VMware vCenter Operations Management Suite (vCOPS).

The low cost of the tool was one of the main reasons LSE selected it. “We are operating on a tight budget and VMTurbo Operations Manager was not highly priced and offered the features we were looking for,” Simpson said.

The IT team has been using the tool since March this year. So what changes has it brought to LSE’s IT performance and the team’s IT administration tasks?

“We have seen some overall leveling of load across the hosts and a decrease in performance incidents,” Simpson said. 

The virtualisation management tool provides the IT team information on how LSE’s IT is running as a whole and how resources can be further optimised. It also gives IT the ability to determine how resources are allocated to applications and how workloads are managed, he added. It produces reports on objects, such as individual virtual machines (VMs), groups of VMs, hosts, clusters and storage, across the environment with history -- information that can be used by the team to determine LSE’s IT strategy

Simpson emphasised the importance of the right management and reporting tool in improving IT performance, increasing resource utilisation and reducing operating costs.

Previously, the IT team balanced the VMs manually based on the number of VMs per host. Migrations between hosts were only done when VMs were powered on or when a system alert identified a problem. But now, they can place the VMs optimally based on actual performance figures and the use across all hosts within the cluster

“I also like the fact that it can be accessed from any browser, without installing additional software. [It provides reassurance] that we are not burdening our hardware and affecting VM performance,” he said.

The team also hopes that the features in the tool that move VMs around will allow LSE’s infrastructure to run to its full potential without human intervention, freeing up valuable time and resources that would otherwise be required to perform these tasks manually

With more time to address strategic technology issues, LSE’s IT team is now looking to migrate to VMware vSphere’s newest platform and use more cloud-based services.

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