City of San Diego virtualizes against server sprawl

Before the City of San Diego became a 55 per cent virtualized IT environment, its biggest IT challenge was server sprawl and underutilization of hardware.

The integrated service providers with which the City of San Diego worked support their application on particular hardware, so the environment couldn’t be mixed and matched, recounted Rick Scherer, virtual infrastructure architect with the City.

“We have a number of servers utilizing three to 10 per cent of the CPU and memory resources,” explained Scherer. And, because of the ISV setup, he added, “we had a one-for-one in our physical environment.”

The one-server-to-application ratio also meant that the City was challenged by high procurement costs, on average about $7,000 for the hardware alone, said Scherer.

There were also overwhelming management capabilities, said Scherer, due to individual departments running their own monitoring tools, provision guidelines and backup strategies.


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The City decided to use VMware virtualization technology to consolidate its servers and make application deployment easier, said Scherer. The result was a virtual machine deployment time that went from two weeks to about 20 minutes depending on the image, he said.

Besides faster deployment, Scherer noted “an overall simplicity” now that all machines can be placed on the same host, and be monitored, accessed and modified from one window. Higher service level agreements were observed, too, he said.

In comparing the IT environment today compared to five years ago, Scherer said the cost of hardware went from $168,000 to $7,000, and the power usage from 9.6KW to 1.6KW.

VMware recently released vSphere 4, of which the City is part of the beta program. Kevin Connor, senior systems engineer with VMware, said while reducing physical footprint in an infrastructure will cut operating costs and increase operational flexibility and responsiveness, there are many advantages to productivity as well. “There are lots of productivity improvements that just come along for the ride,” said Connor.

For one, a virtual server can be provisioned faster than a physical one, said Connor, given the fact that it is just a matter of “copying a handful of files.” And, centralized management grants efficiency. The goal of virtualized environments in general, said Connor, is to grant businesses the ability to focus on the services that matter to their business.

Scherer said the City of San Diego has multiple sites across the city that are now linked together “allowing us to control, manage and monitor all of these machines from a single pane.” Moreover, for the purposes of disaster recovery, he said machines can be migrated to an offsite provider.

With the new virtualized environment, the City just completed a Microsoft SQL virtualization project with 18 instances in that virtual environment. Scherer said the benefits included better chargeback capabilities so that the IT department could ascertain the CPU and memory that each machine used and bill that back to the respective departments.

“We are running everything from SAP to SQL to Altiris to Web servers to interwoven Teamsite to ESRI GIS applications,” Scherer added. While Microsoft Exchange remains physical at this time, Outlook services are being slowly migrated to virtual machines, he said.

The plans are to have an additional 100 physical machines taken out of the data centre by 2010, said Scherer.

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