Straining Under Success — NACR Consolidates Servers and Storage to Cope with Rapid Growth

So we had two choices. One was to make our data center larger – or to consolidate our current systems.”
– Daric Trnka, Network Engineer, NACR

Bursting at the Seams

“We were outgrowing our data center,” said Daric Trnka, Network Engineer at NACR, a communications solutions provider based in Eagan, Minnesota. “So we had two choices. One was to make our data center larger – or to consolidate our current systems.”

NACR had grown from 70 to 450 employees in four years, and its data center was bursting at the seams. Floor space and power were constrained. Cables ran everywhere. “We couldn’t get around to work,” said Trnka. There were no more available power outlets in the room. The racks of IT equipment generated enough heat to raise the room’s temperature 10 to 12 degrees higher than the thermostat setting, in spite of three air conditioning units working overtime.

Numerous x86 servers with internal storage populated the data center racks. Each server hosted an individual application, such as payroll, file and print services, web sites, help desk as well as Microsoft SharePoint and Live Communications. In this fragmented environment, server and storage utilization was low, which meant costly hardware remained idle. The server sprawl had also become difficult and time-consuming to manage.

In short, the rapid growth and success of the business had created a strain on the data center that NACR needed to resolve.

Solution:  Networked Storage and Server Virtualization

NACR initially wanted a storage area network (SAN) to consolidate storage and lay the groundwork for replicating data to an offsite data center. However, they realized that SAN connections for their many servers would be too expensive, so they decided to consolidate servers as well to reduce the number of connections required.
Two value-added resellers presented bids. One proposed an iSCSI SAN based on an IP network. S1 IT Solutions proposed a high-performance Fibre Channel SAN with server consolidation using VMware virtualization. NACR chose the S1 solution because it was a better fit for their performance requirements and addressed the whole IT infrastructure. The S1 solution included:

  • Two Fibre Channel switches (IBM 2005-B16), each with 16 x 4Gbps ports for SAN connectivity
  • A SAN-attached disk storage system (IBM DS4700) with 3 TB of shared, centralized storage
  • Two x86 servers (IBM System x3650) running VMware for server consolidation

The installation went smoothly. It took less than two weeks and required only two visits from an S1 technical consultant. Trnka used VMware Converter to convert physical server environments to virtual machines running on the new servers. He learned to operate the new infrastructure quickly. The migration did not affect production operations and was transparent to users.

The servers are now clustered for high availability. “If one of the physical servers fail, all of the virtual servers will fail over to the remaining one,” he said. Production data is stored on Fibre Channel drives in the system to maximize performance, while test and development data and the file and print server are on SATA drives in the same system to minimize costs. This tiered storage approach achieves a finer balance between performance and cost.

I feel relieved. It’s a lot easier to manage… This thing has met every promise so far.”
– Daric Trnka

Results:  Streamlined Data Center and Fast, Flexible Provisioning

The S1 solution has dramatically streamlined the data center. It consolidated from 26 physical servers to only two physical servers running 26 virtual machines. Instead of internal storage, the servers connect to a single shared storage system over a SAN. The number of equipment racks dropped from three to two – with plenty of room to spare. There are only eight network cables connected to the two physical servers, instead of the dozens of cables they had before. Power outlets are available again. The air conditioning units do not have to work as hard, and the room temperature is now the same as the thermostat setting!

IT costs have fallen as a result. Higher utilization of server and storage hardware means less equipment needs to be purchased. Savings on power and cooling are substantial – an increasingly important factor as energy costs rise. Most significantly, NACR avoided the expense of a data center expansion since consolidation was enough to solve the problem.

“It’s easier to support. We need less IT personnel to support the servers,” said Trnka. Maintenance, upgrades, cabling, test, development and provisioning are all greatly simplified. For instance, when someone requested a server, they used to buy a physical server and then install the operating system. “Now we just have to right-click our template virtual server and it’s done in about 25 minutes,” he said. This means the business itself can more quickly and dynamically respond to the challenges of growth and change.

“I feel relieved. It’s a lot easier to manage. I mean it’s just crazy to have everything you need on one screen… It’s the first time it has ever worked the way the brochure said. Normally when you buy a product, you have a brochure version of it and a real-world version of it. This thing has met every promise so far.”

Looking Forward

NACR plans to put all remaining application data on the SAN. Five Citrix servers, two SQL servers and an Exchange server will be migrated to the SAN as their hardware warranties expire. NACR also plans to establish a secondary SAN at an offsite data center for remote replication and disaster recovery.

Copyright © 2009 Apropos LLC. All rights reserved.

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