Subscribe to our Newsletter
Barossa Council has reaped a fine harvest of savings from server virtualisation, and now hopes for a mature vintage of improved services.
Ryan England wanted to get his weekends back. England, Barossa Council’s Manager for Information and Communication Technology, commutes to the Council’s Nuriootpa offices from Adelaide, but found himself often spending time in the office after work in order to maintain its fleet of 18 servers.
When those machines reached the end of their working lives, England knew it was time to look for a better way to work.
“We were at end of life and the servers were all leased,” he says. “Usually when we lease we try to do it in groups of servers. This gave us a good opportunity to look at what the industry was doing.” England felt the easiest option was a like-forlike server replacement, but was also aware that virtualisation is now a widely-accepted technology that might just save the Council some money while also saving him some time.
“It was important to introduce virtualisation to the organisation,” England says. “It’s hard to manage a lot of servers.” Thanks to a recently signed software licensing agreement, England also felt he had a way to obtain virtualisation software without the need for a massive new investment.
“We had recently entered into an Open Value agreement with Microsoft,” he says. That agreement guaranteed access to a broad range of software products, meaning that England could use Microsoft’s Hyper-V software without incurring additional cost.
“That licensing agreement made our decision to look at virtualisation much stronger,” England says.
He nonetheless considered other virtualisation products, some of which the Council had already licensed. But England considered managing multiple licences from different vendors “messy” and despite Microsoft trailing market leaders in the field, at least in terms of market share, was happy with its products.
“Hyper-V Version 2 had matured a lot and we felt it had become closer to a solution,” he says.
Getting value from the Council’s new licensing agreement was also important. “We had to outlay a large sum of cash [for licensing] compared to what we paid before. Getting licensing consolidated was a good tick in the box.”
With the technology decision made, England and his two colleagues on the Council’s IT team started to plan what they would virtualise, and how.
“Application vendors used to insist on separate servers,” he says, and this initially led to worries that some of the Council’s software might not take kindly to running on virtual machines. “We were really lucky with our planning and investigation stage and scoping of the project; as we liaised with software vendors, we got comfort that virtualisation was supported. This could have been a showstopper but with some tweaks and version upgrades, we got there.” ‘There’ is new infrastructure that has seen the Council go from operating 18 physical servers to just four of IBM’s x3650 M3 machines powered by six-core CPUs. All housed in a single rack – down from two – and a single console allows management of the 25 virtual machines which now operate in the Council’s data centre.
Among the new virtual fleet is a dedicated anti-virus server and another virtual machine given over the print serving. Neither function previously ran on its own servers, and England says he did not plan to create distinct virtual servers but found it was comfortably possible during the implementation process.
“In the planning stage it made little sense to create servers for distinct tasks, but we found we were able to ‘granularise’ our environment.” Another benefit of this outcome is that Council can now store virtual server images in its disaster recovery site. England and his team have also implemented a replication process so that changes to a server are matched at the disaster recovery site, meaning that recovering from outage won’t require substantial rebuilds of servers.
“Now we can recover each server and we can also make copies of servers for test and development work,” England says. One benefit of this approach is that England gets home faster: “Applying patches and hotfixes meant there was a lot of work to do out of hours,” he says.“Now we can do it during working hours and we can channel time and resources more wisely and make sure we have the resources to do productive work.” That work will, in the future, include a rollout of more time-saving tools. “We are looking at adding [Microsoft’s] System Centre Operations Manager, and a big Windows 7 and Office 2010 refresh,” England says. “We will use System Centre Configuration Manager for that part of the job.” Another project on the agenda is desktop virtualisation, which England says he has “thought about and chatted with some senior managers about,” but has met some resistance as “people want the look and feel of having a desktop. So I’m thinking about some pilot users, maybe in meeting rooms or with our executive assistants.” England is not sure if those users will take kindly to VDI, but is pleased he now has time to at least contemplate this kind of initiative as it shows his team has the time to innovate.
England expects that work will see his team become more involved in service improvements, thanks to Councils new and simpler infrastructure requiring less hands-on time.
“We were able to make massive backend changes to the system and the business was not impacted,” he says. “We’ve gained more productivity from the IT team as well as being more proactive rather than reactive to server faults.”