IBM shop plans 50:1 VMware ratio, storage virtualization

Working with IBM, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is using VMware, virtualization capabilities in AIX 5.3 and storage virtualization to boot.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) is about half-way through the "IT transformation" project it undertook with IBM in 2004 and is relying heavily on virtualization to achieve its goals.

On the Unix side of the house, UPMC started out by gradually migrating its 167 Unix and legacy servers to logical partitions (LPARs) on four IBM System p5 595 servers running AIX. Operating environments included Sun Solaris, HP-UX, Tru64, OpenVMS and MPE, to name a few, running a variety of enterprise applications including time and attendance, data warehousing and financial modeling.

Once the migration to AIX was complete, UPMC started taking advantage of new Micro-Partitioning capabilities in AIX 5.3 that allow LPARs to be further partitioned in 1/100th of a processor increments. With AIX 5.3, UPMC went from 264 fully allocated processors and 177 LPARs down to only 120 processors, but 230 LPARs. "We freed up 130 processors, while growing the number of applications we support," said Paul Sikora, UPMC vice president for IT transformation.

Sikora attributes UPMC's success with AIX virtualization to the preliminary step of migrating all applications to AIX. "The thing that prevents people from really going after [the AIX 5.3 virtualization functionality] is not having enough apps in a standard environment," he said. "First you have to standardize, and then you can think about technologies like virtualization."

VMware on IBM xSeries
Meanwhile, over in x86 land, Sikora and his team have been busy consolidating its Windows systems on to 13 IBM xSeries servers. Currently, 347 servers have been virtualized, but Sikora has plans to virtualize approximately 80% of his thousand-plus Windows systems.

"We understand that there are a certain number of apps that require physical separation," Sikora said, notably ones that already run at high utilization rates or that need specialized device drivers. At the same time, "Eighty percent of our [Windows] servers are probably utilized less than 10%," he said.

To achieve the high 50:1 consolidation ratio, UPMC uses two types of servers: four four-way eServer xSeries 366 with 16 GB of RAM and nine eight-way x460s with 64 GB of RAM. "The servers with low utilization, we stack them like crazy on the four-ways," Sikora explained. "The [apps] that run up to 50% utilization on a physical box, we put them on the eight-ways with a little bit more buffer space so you have room to deal with variability."

In the next couple of months, UPMC will start to migrate from ESX 2.5.4 to VMware Infrastructure 3 to take advantage of VI3's HA and Distributed Resource Scheduling (DRS) features, said Kevin Muha, UPMC senior systems architect. He'll start by migrating VMs off the four-ways on to the larger x460s and repurposing the x366s at UPMC's disaster recovery site. Then, he'll add in four new dual-core eight-ways running ESX 3.x.

Using VMotion, Muha plans to migrate all the ESX 2.5.4 systems to 3.x within 90 days and lay the foundation for heavier consolidation. "Right now, we're only running at 35% utilization," Muha said. "I can take down half my boxes without experiencing a service interruption. Right now, we're just sitting back and enjoying the luxury of all that overhead."

Nevertheless, using VMware to consolidate its Windows servers, UPMC has been able to drive down the cost of hosting an application from $10,000 to $1,900 per image, Sikora said, while providing higher levels of service.

"The added functionality we get is the ability to update the systems while they are running [with VMotion]," he said. "That clustering functionality is included in the base cost."

Another dramatic example of cost savings came from one of UPMC's enterprise applications. The vendor, which Sikora would not name, had quoted UPMC $523,000 for its recommended configuration, including hardware, operating systems and database licenses all based on per-processor pricing. But Sikora's team calculated that if the application were running in a virtual environment, they could make do with much less infrastructure. "We believed we could get the same level of service on a hardware system that cost just $63,000," said Sikora. "We settled with the vendor somewhere in between."

Storage virtualization with SVC
UPMC is also using storage virtualization in the form of IBM's SAN Volume Controller (SVC).

"Before SVC, we had six to eight SAN environments, plus a lot of [direct-attached storage] for our Windows environments," Sikora said. Unix servers were in their own SAN environments, and unused DAS storage assigned to Windows applications was effectively lost.

By virtualizing its storage behind SVC, however, "we've been able to react more quickly [to provisioning requests] and better utilize idle whitespace storage," he said. Other benefits have been standardized backup processes, backup tape encryption and a three-tiered storage architecture, he said.

But admittedly, "Storage virtualization hasn't been as powerful a story as our processor virtualization and server virtualization projects," Sikora said. "We're a lot more maneuverable now, but I haven't really taken the time to quantify our results."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Alex Barrett, News Director

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