A scheduled hardware refresh was the perfect time for an Ontario felt company to trim its server farm and wrap its IT systems under a new virtualized environment.
Mississauga, Ont.-based Brand Felt Ltd. was able to drastically cut physical server purchases and management costs and significantly reduce business operation time by deploying virtual servers, according to Michael Paquette, the manufacturing firm’s network administrator.
The 52-year-old, family-owned company manufactures synthetic and natural wool felt materials which are used for a variety of applications including polishing machine pads, board erasers, shoe liners, greenhouse irrigation pads, billiard table covers and fashion accessories. The company’s two-person IT team supports 50 computer users, some of whom are engaged in running the Brand Felt’s e-commerce Web site. Before its virtualization program, Brand Felt had nine physical servers.
“In 2009 we were approaching our five year major hardware refresh cycle when our IT consultant suggested we consider virtualization to cut costs and prepare our system for the future,” Paquette told ITBusiness.ca.
Virtualization technologies basically separate software from the underlying hardware, allowing the application to be deployed in more flexible ways. This enables multiple operating systems to run on one server and allow application workloads to be shifted between computers more easily to enhance hardware use.
Deploying virtual servers helps cut the number of physical servers. Virtualization tools also present multiple storage devices as one, hiding their physical complexity from storage administrators. This offers companies greater control over storage provisioning.
Paquette said the company’s goals were to: replace its aging servers; streamline IT management; and improve application performance and availability.
The company considered Citrix XenServer and Parallels Virtuizzo, but ultimately chose vSphere Essentials Plus from VMware because of the system’s low-cost high availability features, according to Paquette.
“VMware was always in our sights but their systems were previously priced around $10,000 or more which was well above our budget,” said Paquette. But just around the time of Brand Felt’s refresh cycle, VMware introduced a new pricing model aimed at SMBs. “The price drop was around the range of $4,400 and with the high availability feature they offered the competition just couldn’t match that offer”.
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Letting go of the server farm
The challenges that Brand Felt faced are typical to many SMBs today, according to Grant Aitken, area vice president for VMware Canada.
“Because almost every company today operates in a computerized environment, even small businesses rely on servers. But as their business grows this model requires them to purchase more servers which in time become more costly and cumbersome to manage,” he said.
Aitken said there is a growing market for virtualization in the SMB sector where businesses tend to have five to 10 servers. “Many SMBs are realizing that they can save as much as 40 to 70 per cent of the cost of purchasing or leasing a physical server by switching to a full or partially virtualized environment,” he said.
Companies typically cut down their physical server lineup but populate the remaining machines with virtual servers that can be provisioned or scaled back as business operations demand.
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“The number one driver for virtualization adoption is cost reduction followed closely by ease of management and scalability,” Aitken said.
A virtual server can be controlled and inspected remotely through a central console while physical servers typically require technicians and administrators to actually open up the machine, Aitken said. A virtual machine can also be created and configured as needed without the need of an up-front hardware purchase, he added.
“Perhaps the best time to consider virtualization is around the time the company is about to go through a hardware refresh. That’s because hardware contracts are ending and equipment will be replaced anyway,” Aitken said.
Benefits of virtualization
In deploying vSphere Essential Plus, Brand Felt got rid of seven of its nine physical servers, said Paquette. The two remaining physical servers now host 20 virtual servers. “We probably saved more than $100,000 in hardware and labour costs,” he said.
Paquette noticed an immediate difference in terms of e-mail and e-commerce management. “I don’t need to bother about freeing up blocked sessions, database crashes and freezing,” he said.
Customer searches on the company’s site which use to take 30 seconds to return results now take only three seconds. “This is critical when you considered many surveys indicate that users tend to give up on a site when searches are bogged down by more than 10 seconds,” said Paquette.
Managing servers has become a breeze as well, he added.
For example, complete server reboots now only take 30 minutes. Before Paquette and his fellow IT administrator would have to spend the weekend to work manually on each server.
“The refresh run is so much simpler because we can do it through a central console. We can take down or set up a (virtual) server through our console,” said Paquette.
“There’s no turning back from virtualization,” said Paquette.