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Virtuozzo, Egenera blades help fitness center slim down

Bridget Botelho

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After a year of researching server technologies and living through what it described as a "consumer nightmare," the fitness center chain Sport & Health outfitted its new data center with blade servers from Egenera Inc. running virtualization software from SWsoft.

Until recently, Sport & Health purchased and built its own white-box servers, one of which ran at each of its 24 health clubs located throughout Maryland, Washington D.C., and Virginia, plus another 26 servers running in a makeshift data center.

Among the shortcomings of Sport & Health's data center were poor network connectivity, inadequate cooling and no redundant power. About a year ago, the company decided it was time to create a "real" data center by outfitting it with state-of-the-art technologies, said Glenn Rappaport, director of IT at Sport & Health.

Simplify, simplify
Sport & Health is in the process of consolidating its physical servers at its new data center, located at an Equinix hosting facility in Ashburn, Va. Using SWSoft Virtuozzo server virtualization software, the company has thus far consolidated 20 servers on just six Egenera BladeFrame servers.

 From a time perspective [and] a management perspective, this is the way to go.
Glenn Rappaport,
director of ITSport & Health

The company chose to go with SWsoft Virtuozzo over VMware Inc.'s technology for cost and performance reasons. "Virtuozzo saved us a ton of money in licensing, because you can have as many virtual machines as you want on a box," Rappaport said. And technology-wise, Rappaport preferred SWsoft's approach. "We didn't have to split any of the hardware with Virtuozzo. You are just virtualizing the OS."

In addition, Sport & Heath relies heavily on BladeFrame's own brand of virtualization -- Egenera's Processing Area Network (PAN) Manager software -- for a fully redundant and integrated system. Similar in concept to a storage area network, PAN Manager software controls server resources containing only processors and memory.

The Egenera BladeFrame system allows Sport & Health to centrally manage multiple facilities and applications, including its membership management application, Microsoft SQL servers, Linux operating systems, Microsoft Exchange and Web servers.

Back to business
In the quest for the best technologies and vendors, Sport & Fitness evaluated hardware from IBM, Hewlett-Packard Co., EMC Corp. and Egenera. It chose Marlboro, Mass.-based Egenera because its hardware design and out-of-the-box remote management offerings seemed simpler than that of the competition.

"We are not data center operators; we want to run health clubs. But we know we need this stuff to do that. We looked at different vendors, blades, 1U, 2U, 4U servers. We went to seminars, had sales guys talking to us," Rappaport said. "Every single time we spoke to vendors, it was confusing, and everyone said we would have to add extras, like cabling. It was a consumer nightmare. It felt like it was such a big to-do to outfit a data center. We kept getting lost in it."

Sport & Fitness has an IT staff of only three, so hardware simplicity was key. "We wanted the least amount of hardware and cabling possible, because we didn't want to have to learn about all the switching and cabling," said Rappaport. "Egenera's offerings sounded too good to be true when we first talked to them. … You plug in your fiber, plug in your LAN connectivity, plug in your power, and you're ready to go."

The company's vendor and technology choices are smart considering its goals, said Jim Burton, an analyst at Ideas International in Rye Brook, N.Y.

"Anytime you virtualize everything, you have a much easier time with management," Burton said. "This is especially true when things go wrong or when changes need to be made. Changes can be made extremely quickly and easily because the software is not tied to the hardware. In just a click of the mouse, the change is made. There is no need to deal with things such as IP or MAC [Media Access Control] addresses; the software handles all of that transparently to the user."

Not just a dollar savings
Rappaport said he hasn't quantified the exact bottom-line savings, if any, expected from migrating to virtual machines and using Egenera hardware, but Health & Sport has already realized substantial time savings.

"We haven't put a dollar value on it," Rappaport said. "It is more about saving time and the simplicity of the system. We are able to add servers in 15 minutes of needing [them]. From a time perspective [and] a management perspective, this is the way to go."

Overall, Egenera has excellent failover capabilities and its PAN manager is a solid, mature product that delivers many time-saving capabilities, Burton said.

That said, Egenera's BladeFrame has some drawbacks. Compared with other blade servers, it is expensive and lacks the openness that some customers have begun to demand, so it may never catch up to IBM BladeCenter or HP BladeSystem, Burton said.

"Just to be fair to the other vendors, management has been high on the list of every blade vendor for the last five years," Burton said. "IBM, Sun, HP and Dell have been working very hard in this area, and all have been making good progress."

Egenera technology patents
In other Egenera news, the company's signature PAN architecture received an official patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in July. The PAN architecture virtualizes network, storage and servers and is the key architecture underlying all the company's hardware and software offerings.

Egenera also announced it has obtained a patent that provides access to Microsoft Windows consoles in a virtualized environment.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail Bridget Botelho, News Writer.


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