Maritime telco takes consolidation path

When four provincial telephone companies — NewTel Communications Inc., Island Telecom Inc., Maritime Tel & Tel Ltd. And NB Tel Inc. — amalgamated on Jan. 1, 2001, the newly formed Aliant Telecom Inc. was in need of some server streamlining.

“(The companies) all had their own data centres, server standards, their own way of doing things,” said Chris Munn, the Halifax-based senior server and storage architect for Aliant’s CTO organization. “We needed to achieve some savings; four-to-one consolidation is really what we were looking for.”

Sun Microsystems Inc. already had a “pretty major footprint” in all four companies prior to the merger, especially in external customer-facing services, and also on the back end on the business-systems side, Munn said. Aliant had Sun come in and present couple of case studies using Gartner methodologies on server consolidation. The telco was also introduced to some other customers who had implemented these same strategies. “That got us interested in doing some server consolidation,” Munn said.

Having looked at Sun’s business cases, Aliant came up with its own plan and was “pretty conservative in the final analysis,” he said. “We actually backed off or reduced our ROI figures to about half of the numbers” in the other case studies, “and that’s what we proceeded on.”

Aliant decided upon using a combination of consolidation strategies. One of them was to use large, vertically scalable servers to consolidate applications like databases. “It was a way to take advantage of a lot of processors on a single box,” Munn. The other strategy was to collocate applications by “taking multiple smaller applications and consolidating them onto a single box,” Munn said.

In the first stage of the project, the goal was to consolidate several disparate servers of varying age and brand. “We wanted to get them on more reliable hardware, increase service levels and reduce the cost to run them,” Munn said.

Aliant in the first year of the consolidation project eliminated 91 servers out of an estimated 600, and in the second year it cleaned out another 80.“What that got us is that we managed to clean up the low-hanging fruit…the servers we could actually get at.” That left the telco with 130 to 140 boxes that didn’t make the cut for consolidation because they were three or more years old, or couldn’t support collocated applications. There were “significant maintenance costs associated with these things,” Munn said.

Sun suggested a technology refresh — migrating some of their applications on larger Sun and IBM servers to Sun Fire two-way and four-way boxes. For example, a Nortel application that might be running on a Sun e450 could be consolidated down to v240-class boxes. “I was skeptical at (the) front end of this. I thought it might be a little hokey or aggressive, but after digging in and looking at the financials, I saw there was something there…In the current lineup [the v240] is a fairly low-end server, so it would be a low capital cost to purchase it and it would have a lower maintenance cost.”

As part of the deal, Sun Services will help Aliant to optimize its data centre environment through Sun Preventive Services, which will include Sun Remote Services Net Connect 3.1. The platform “enables [Sun] to remotely monitor the health of a system,” explained Ibrahim Canakci, the product segment manager responsible for Sun Canada’s server business. “We get the error messages and system alerts, and we can proactively…prevent anything from going wrong. The other benefit is that it provides usage information so we can follow the utilization of the system, which allows you to optimize your system utilization.”

Aliant also has a three-year SunSpectrum Gold support agreement, which includes pre-emptive services, hardware support and Solaris operating system upgrades, Canakci said.

Munn said Aliant was able to eliminate $720,000 in maintenance expenses through just the refresh portion of the project. The firm expects to save more than $3.3 million annually in maintenance expenses, as well as $1.5 million through annualized ongoing capital cost avoidance by not having to replace some of the older boxes it eliminated. “That’s a huge expense impact,” Munn said.

The decision to stick with Sun’s Solaris platform, rather than replacing its boxes with Linux on Intel, was based on support. “Right now for us, an end-to-end OS support package is pretty important,” Munn said. Another reason is the amount of money and time the company has already invested in Solaris training.

Although Aliant does use Linux with certain smaller applications, Solaris is “certainly the preferred operating system… In my view, hardware cost is typically the reason why people would switch to Linux.”

Security is another reason. “We seem to be going into Solaris less to apply security patches than to Linux boxes. I don’t mean to dis Linux, as it will have to be part of our long term strategy, but there is no compelling reason to jump in, at this point, with both feet.”

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