Canadian beta uses share the Hyper-V experience

Though cost savings is one reason companies virtualize their servers, another driving factor is the ease with which firms can recover from outages, according to speakers at a roundtable Monday.

McKesson Canada, whose services include distribution of drugs, uses Microsoft Corp.’s Hyper V beta to cluster services, and can fail over virtual machines between offices in five minutes, said Cameron McKay, a systems administrator for the company.

“One of the big areas in Canada we’re starting to see adoption in, is things like disaster recovery scenarios,” said Bruce Cowper, chief security advisor at Mississauga, Ont.-based Microsoft Canada Co. “Some of our customers had seen virtualization at a particular task like server consolidation and really starting to go beyond that initial scope and look at things like, ‘How can I actually do disaster recovery, leveraging the virtual environments?’”

Cowper and McKay spoke at Microsoft Corp.’s virtualization roundtable in Toronto, where the Redmond, Wash. software maker also announced three products.

Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 is designed to let companies configure and install new virtual machines and managing their infrastructure. Application Virtualization version 4.5 is designed to let Windows Vista users stream applications to their desktop, while allowing managers to control them centrally. Microsoft also said Hyper V Server 2008 will be available for download within 30 days.

One Hyper V beta tester who spoke at the round table was Vince Jordan, director of technology management services for Ontario’s Workplace Safety Insurance Board.

Officials at the board, which provides compensation to sick and injured workers, wanted to reduce its “footprint” in the data centre through server consolidation.

“We have just exploded in the amount of major projects that are happening,” Jordan said. “One of the bigger ones is … changing the way we do claims in Ontario, and that brings forth a requirement for a lot of hardware and software. We’re being called upon, it seems almost on a weekly basis, to add in servers to the data centre.”

He said virtualization lets them provision servers more quickly and respond more quickly to problems.

“We were looking at probably incurring $ 1million in expenses down in the data centre, and we were looking at how we could avoid that, and one of the things that came up was virtualization.”

Research from Toronto-based IDC Canada shows about 40 per cent of Canadian companies are “looking at” buying the technology “over the next year or so,” said Kevin Restivo, senior analyst for software at IDC’s Canadian security and software research practice.

“Virtualization, though it’s been in development for literally decades, is game-changing technology because companies can use it to cut operational costs,” Restivo said during the round table.

Not only does virtualization allow large companies to reduce the number of servers, but it also helps cut support and administration costs, Restivo added.

IDC research has shown a company can move from 20-30 servers for every administrator in the “physical world,” to anywhere from 60 to 100 servers in the virtual environment, he said, adding this refers only to staff who are actually handling the servers.

“For every dollar that’s spent on a server, it actually costs 50 cents to maintain that server, and a big cost of that is people,” Restivo said. “When you can see the amount of physical servers and the cost of maintaining them, you can see why businesses are so interested in virtualization.” Cost savings is not only benefit, he added.

“A large percentage of down time is associated with migration, and when it happens, that’s a big no no in business,” Restivo said. “With virtualization, it takes only a matter of minutes to get that virtual server up and running again.”

Another major benefit is flexibility, said McKay.

Using Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine manager, McKesson can manage all servers from one common interface.

“You can get a single view and you’re not flipping between management programs.”

The software works with virtualization products from other vendors as well, Cowper said.

“System Center Virtual Machine Manager will certainly support the VMWare component as well,” Cowper said. “In the future we will also be adding support for Citrix and their virtualization components. That will be in the next release.”

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