Director of distributed systems, First American Corp.

LAS VEGAS — VMware Inc. is touting its vCloud initiative as one that would let companies run virtualized applications on service providers’ machines during peak hours, but one Canadian VMware customer probably won’t be doing this any time soon.

“There are regulations that mean we have to keep (the data) in our environment, especially in Canada,” said Kris Jmaeff, senior server analyst and information systems security specialist with the Kelowna, B.C.-based Interior Health Authority (IHA), which runs 183 health care facilities. “We’re looking into those technologies but will probably not gravitate to that right now.”

Jmaeff made his comments during a presentation at VMWorld 2008, VMware’s tenth annual conference at the Venetian conference centre.

For nearly four years, IHA has been using VMware’s Virtual Data Infrastructure (VDI) technology to combine medical and business applications on to the same physical servers using virtualization technology from VMware. This is designed to reduce hardware costs by using more of the same servers, rather than adding additional boxes.

At one point, he said, IHA needed 10 new servers per week.

Because much of the data contains patient information, Jmaeff is cool to the idea of using vCloud, which is designed to let companies use outsourced data centres when their servers are at or near capacity, to a point where application response time is too slow. Announced Monday at VMWorld, the VCloud Initiative lets service providers offer hosting and managed services under the VMware Ready brand. It also encompasses VMware technologies and application programming interfaces that let companies provision applications using their own data centres.

The ability to use their own infrastructure as a cloud computing resources should be attractive to companies even if some of their data is sensitive, said John Gilmartin, group product manager at VMware.

“Customers are certainly going to make decisions as to which types of applications and services to federate out into the cloud and one of the key questions to ask is, ‘What are the regulatory requirements that I have, what kind of security requirements do I have,’” Gilmartin said in an interview with ComputerWorld Canada.

“I think certainly in the short term, for some customers, those are going to focus in the direction of developing internal clouds, building an internal cloud they can easily manage separately from the underlying hardware, but I think there’s still many opportunities in those environments for other customers to federate out services and applications.”

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For IHA, the move to virtualized servers began when the organization was born from an amalgamation of smaller regional health centres in B.C.

“That means all of their computers came into our data centre,” Jmaeff said. “Each one of those computers had applications and patient data. It was important and we had to take care of it. Those machines were also getting old. After three or four years we would have to replace the servers that house the data and that caused a great deal of confusion because each server is different. The hardware is expensive.”

Now they have about 500 servers, both physical and virtual, that house business data, patient data, X-Ray pictures and communications.

Using VDI, he said IHA managed to fit 250 virtual servers on seven IBM M2 machines. With virtualization they use 15 per cent of the power and seven per cent of the cooling that would have been required if the machines were not virtual. This saves IHA a total of $70,000 a year on electricity alone.

Jmaeff’s co-panelist managed to save even more money for his company.

Aaron Andrews, director of distributed systems for First American Corp., a Dallas-based financial services company, said his firm saves about $700,000 per year by using virtualization.

“We’ve taken 450 servers basically down to two C-class chassis from HP which is 16 total servers,” he said “Not only did it save us a lot of electricity but just the cabling infrastructure we had to use to support this environment was tremendous. We had 420 servers with at least three cables each. That’s miles of cabling. It would probably go around the planet.”

Despite the cost savings, virtualization was a hard sell with some users at both organizations.

“A lot of analysts, even our directors were iffy about it” initially, Jmaeff said. So IHA did some testing ahead of time.

“We had 60 machines that we virtualized and proved time after time that it worked.”

Not only did it save us a lot of electricity but just the cabling infrastructure we had to use to support this environment was tremendous. We had 420 servers with at least three cables each. That’s miles of cabling. It would probably go around the planet.Aaron Andrews>Text

Andrews said First American even still has some trouble convincing users they don’t need their own physical servers for every application.

“For us we’ve had quite a bit of resistance,” he said. “There are some groups that have been doing virtualization for four years now and some groups who don’t understand what virtualization means. That’s been a big challenge for us, to say, ‘We have business unit A and business unit B. Business unit A’s been doing this for a while, why don’t you, business unit B, do the same thing?’”

Along with vCloud, VMware also announced at VMWorld its vClient initiative, which is designed to let users get their profiles, data and applications on different types of client devices. VMware also unveiled the Virtual Datacenter Operating System (VDC-OS), which includes services for infrastructure, cloud computing and storage.

“Today we aggregate servers, storage, networking into dynamic pools of resources that can be aggregated and carved up into applications,” Gilmartin said. “We see this evolving into a truly distributed operating system that has services for applications, and services for infrastructure and services for management as well.”

VMWorld wrapped up Thursday.

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