Despite the calls from management text books for ever-greater speed, Fujitsu General (Aust.) Pty Limited understands that not all decisions should be rushed. As one of Australia’s most successful and best known providers of air conditioning products, the company has learned that sometimes it pays to pause and fully consider a move before rushing in.
That’s why, when Fujitsu General first began to consider introducing virtualisation into its corporate data centre, the company conducted a two year trial to evaluate what the technology could offer and how it could best be deployed.
Matthew Barnes, Fujitsu General’s IT Manager says, “At the time we had around 30 different servers doing 30 different jobs and we liked the idea that virtualisation could reduce the amount of equipment that was needed. When we did our last hardware roll-out in 2007 we decided to create a test environment and established one of the new servers as a virtual server. It was a basic virtualisation model but it gave us an idea of how smoothly the servers could run and how much maintenance was involved.”
The two year trial also gave Barnes time to test processing speed in the new environment and the potential consequences of issues such as hardware outages. He adds, “The virtual server did everything an everyday server could do. By the end of the trial it made sense to extend the environment and to virtualise the entire data centre.”
Keeping the business running
One of the biggest logistical issues involved in such a project is the need to maintain normal data centre operations so that the business can continue to function smoothly. Fujitsu General’s data centre supports between 150 and 200 staff and provides the processing for warehouses and branch offices located throughout Australia. Barnes realised that the best way to ensure minimal impact on the business was to seek an experienced IT partner to design, develop and deploy the new environment.
After receiving advice and quotes from potential suppliers, Barnes appointed United Business Solutions (UBS), an IT services and solutions company focused on the corporate and government enterprise market. UBS had recently completed a voice over IP (VoIP) and call centre deployment for Fujitsu General and Barnes was confident that the supplier had the skills to make the project a success.
“UBS has virtualised over 1,000 servers over the past five years and as a result we were confident in their ability to deploy robust high availability and virtualisation Infrastructure at Fujitsu General,” says Barnes.
UBS recommended replacing the 30 individual servers with five HP servers running VMware, an EMC storage area network (SAN), and an HP switching infrastructure. . Each of the HP servers would take on the load of up to five of the previous physical servers, thus reducing the total amount of hardware within the data centre. The design included full redundancy and high availability of services with one management server and one back-up server.
It took just two months to install the equipment, build the platforms and migrate to the new environment. Despite some minor hiccups with servers, it was a very smooth project and was delivered on time.
A fail-safe infrastructure
When first investigating virtualisation Barnes’ biggest concern had been the need for redundancy. What would happen if a server failed? Experience has since shown him that such worry was needless.
“The way our data centre has been set up it’s pretty redundant,” Barnes observes. “The management server handles all the virtual servers and the boxes that the servers sit on. It’s smart enough to know that if one of the virtual servers is running slowly or if the load is too great, it shifts the load to another server. Everything happens live, without the user having to know about it. Similarly, if one server fails, activity moves to another server that’s running well.”
Barnes says the main benefit of the virtualisation project is the reduction in physical equipment in the data centre. “Cost-wise, there isn’t a great deal of difference because of the need for virtual licensing. But with less hardware to maintain we don’t have to spend all our time repairing network servers, replacing network cards or hard drives. We’ve gained more time to work on other projects.”
“My advice to others thinking about virtualisation is: Take your time. Do as much reading and research as you can and ask lots of questions. For many companies, what we did would probably be considered a small project but for us it was big. The entire company’s IT infrastructure was involved and it was critical that the project succeed. The good thing was that the more we worked alongside UBS, the better I understood what was required and how well it was all going to turn out,” Barnes adds.