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Interview: Virtual servers and actual results

The next big IT trend looks to be server consolidation. IT administrators buy less hardware, and there are fewer servers to manage. They are also useful in disaster recovery scenarios and for backing up clusters, explained Alan Thomas, a senior technical consultant at National Gypsum Co., a Charlotte, N.C., building and construction parts manufacturer. Thomas discussed his experience consolidating servers using EXS, a virtual server technology made by VMWare Inc.

What initially drove you to try server virtualization? In the e-commerce department, our purpose is to support...

and create an information portal –- a real-time customer service Web site –- to track orders and invoices. What that entails is using several single third-party applications. Usually our vendors say their applications require their own servers, but what they mean is that they require their own OS.

[Virtualization] is perfect for us because if we were to deploy each application on its own server, it would be using only 1% to 2% of that server. We got an 8-way, IBM x440 server, and we consolidated 25% of our application servers. It saved us about 40% [of what we were paying before]. What sort of benefits were you initially expecting by using a virtual server?
Our developers love it because they can create as many [test and development servers] as they want. If you want to test a new application or test our Web code before we put it into production, we don't have to buy other servers. In the case of VMWare, you can format the drive, and test to your heart's content. You can reboot and undo whatever you just did.

And we saw the potential for making the restore process in our disaster recovery test easier. The virtual servers are portable. They can back a tape or FTP, or be moved to another physical server. We used to have all these little applications scattered, doing one thing.

Any unexpected benefits?
The one time we took some downtime was when we upgraded our SQL Server cluster. We found we could create a cluster on one server instead of having a physical server. So now we have a test bed for clusters. You must have had some initial concerns about consolidation.
Putting all eggs in one basket is a concern. Whether it's VMWare or Connectix, it's still a single point of physical failure. If I have 20 servers on a single box, it could all go down at once. And you will take a hit on performance. I think VMWare has advantages over Connectix because it runs on the hardware. It has direct access to CPUs versus Connectix. [VMWare] ESX lets you change resource allocation, memory and CPU on the fly, and you can't do that in Windows. What's your take on Microsoft's purchase of the Connectix virtual machine technology?
They'll drive VMWare to be more competitive and to stay out there and innovate. It's definitely going to drive the price down.


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