The Prudential says yes to virtual servers

The Prudential has given server virtualization technology its backing with a decision to replace its department individual servers with VMware run on shared centralized servers.

Shared eight-way Hewlett-Packard Co. Proliant servers running VMware Inc. will move the company towards its utility computing goal. It is already using VMware to centralize 800 desktops onto two-way servers, and has replaced 80 development servers with a pair of eight-way systems.

The decision is part of a strategy of consolidation and standardization, said Andy Ruby, head of infrastructure and design for the Pru's IT subsidiary PruTech. "We needed to refresh the hardware, the choice was to do like-for-like or adopt a new model, with extra short term costs but long term benefits." he says. "Server consolidation pays for itself versus like-for-like.

"The ultimate aim is to get to true utility. To an extent I can do that internally, but to get to true utility I need the equivalent of the National Grid - shared services along bureau lines, with the vendors taking the risk."

In the meantime, he is doing what he can to provide utility computing at a local level. PruTech's development servers were moved over first to prove that consolidating on VMware was viable: "We have now implemented two more eight-way servers and plan to get 20 production servers on each."

Ruby adds that in the past his team could spend a day building a server that was needed only because some departmental application required its own private host, and would probably then peak at one percent CPU utilization. Now, the same can be achieved faster and more efficiently - and if downtime is needed, he can use VMware's Vmotion software to move a running virtual server from one physical machine to another.

"We have also virtualized around 800 desktops to 70 two-way servers running VMWare in Scotland and Reading, at six users per processor," he confirmed. The problem here was that staff at the Pru's call center in Mumbai (Bombay) could not use the normal thick-client Windows applications against its back office systems because of latency on the long distance network.

"We had to get the Windows apps closer to the servers, but one or two of them didn't work on Citrix Systems Inc. We couldn't put 100 PCs in the datacenter so it was a choice between PC blades and VMWare," Ruby said. The solution was to use virtual PCs running on two-way servers in the UK data centers, and Windows XP's terminal services on PCs in Mumbai. "Thin clients would have been better," he adds, "but there was no time and we wanted minimum risk."

HP says that some forms of server virtualization are already widely used at the high end, with anything up to 80 percent of 16-way servers using hard or soft partitioning. Thomas Ullrich, marketing director for HP's EMEA customer solutions group, acknowledges that they are a small part of the total market, but says that VMware allows users of smaller servers to consider virtualization too.

Indeed, server virtualization is essential if enterprises are to achieve capacity on demand and utility computing, according to IDC server analyst Thomas Meyer. He said it will take years to feed through, though. "We are there with virtualization, but I'd question how many people are using it," he says. It's a US$250 million market now and will be $1.7 billion by 2008 - but there will still be alternatives in 2008 because people move at a different pace."

This suspicion that virtualization remains a well-known but unused technology at the moment, despite efforts by big manufacturers, was re-iterated recently by several analysts and big firms that are a natural target for virtualization suppliers.

This story, "The Prudential says yes to virtual servers" was originally published by Techworld.com.

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