407 Expressway’s tech team cuts costs, saves time with server virtualization

The 407 express toll route is a 108 km stretch of pavement. Its business may be about moving cars, but it also has to move data. Like any company, its employees rely on applications such as e-mail every single day.

That means someone has to keep the servers running. That’s the job of Mahmood Bhimji, who was hired to help spearhead a server virtualization project.

“Our applications are spread out over 148 Windows servers, which as you can imagine takes up a lot of rack space, power consumption, network connectivity and administrative overheads,” says the technical services analyst. “The 407 was looking to consolidate its physical infrastructure down using VM Ware technology, IBM HS-22 servers and the IBM N-series storage devices to reduce power consumption, and network and administrative overheads.”

The 407 looked to Scalar Decisions to help drive this project forward. It has worked with the Toronto-area IT services company in the past, on a storage optimization project, and that familiarity was a big help.

“Being engaged and understanding their processes is probably the most important thing to get successfully complete project,” says Roger Singh, chief technical officer at Scalar Decisions. “So understanding the environment from an operational perspective and understanding they do with their environment obviously helps.”

Bhimji describes the process of moving data and applications from physical servers to virtual servers.

“We used VM Ware’s tools to migrate our physical servers over to a virtual server,” he says. “Utilizing VSphere from VM Ware as well as IBM HS22 servers … Over two and a half month period, we were able to migrate 40 physical servers as well as generate a number of new servers that were required for ongoing projects.

“The migrations would generally take place at night time so as not to have any impact on the business, generally about two hours per server,” he says.

The 407 expressway’s data room supports about 500 employees and their day-to-day operations. By virtualizing some servers, the office was able to reduce the amount of physical boxes by one third. It also meant energy-based cost savings, since less power was being used on hardware and cooling requirements.

“We had 148 physical servers prior to the project, and have so far reduced about 40 physical servers,” Bhimji says. “Right now in our environment we have 65 virtual servers running, with the capacity of another 60 to be added on as required.

By reducing the number of physical servers, he estimates they power consumption will be cut by 11,000 kilowatts and cooling power by around 13,000 kilowatts per year. “This is the equivalent of taking about 28 cars off the road each year.”

Cost savings and reduced emissions are great, but not the only benefits of virtualization.

“The most important thing is the day to day workflow of the administrators,” Singh says. “We’ve brought [many of those tasks] into the virtualization project and help them with monitoring and provisioning of systems.”

It takes much less time to set up a virtual server than it did to set up a physical box, Bhimji says. The process of ordering the hardware, having it shipped, installing the software, and updating it can take weeks.

“With a virtualized environment we’re able to deploy servers in a matter of minutes,” he says. Earlier it used to take four to six weeks to have a new server available in the environment. That’s time has been dramatically reduced to 30 minutes.

Backup space requirements have also been reduced by using the Snap Manager software that allows quick backups of VM Ware servers. Those backups can also be moved to a disaster recovery site if the data centre goes down.

VM Ware’s Site Recovery Manager is a plug-in that provides a fully automated disaster recovery process with the click of a button in just a few minutes time.

The project cost $320,000 for the hardware and software needed, such as extensions to VM Ware licences.

“The project also encompassed the renewal of a lot of the existing hardware,” Singh says.

The project was rolled out from September to January. “Project completion for us includes not just deployment but full training of staff,” Singh says.

The 407 staff take the express highway to work to avoid waiting in traffic. Now they won’t have to wait for IT to set up new test environments for them either.

Check out more Voices episodes from ITBusiness.ca.

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