After testing virtualization platforms from VMware Inc. and Microsoft, Owen Bird Law Corp. in Vancouver, British...
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Columbia, instead virtualized its Windows infrastructure with Lowell, Mass.-based virtualization provider Virtual Iron Software.
In 2004, with about 90 users and 18 servers to support, the firm's sole IT staffer, Stephen Bakerman, began tinkering with virtualization to make his job easier and save money.
Bakerman began with Microsoft Virtual PC and then, in early 2006, installed Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2 for a testing environment running on Hewlett-Packard Co.'s ProLiant servers with multicore processors. He then tried VMware Virtual Server 1.0, because it enabled him to go from physical to virtual and back to physical machines, which wasn't possible with Microsoft, he explained.
In addition to the testing environment, Bakerman decided that virtualization could accommodate growth and obviate the need for new servers, which would have cost about $40,000. In addition to the hefty cost, a lack of space in the server room and astronomical cooling costs were also concerns.
Having tried software from VMware and Microsoft, Bakerman looked at Virtual Iron and was attracted by the price. "The cost difference between Virtual Iron and VMware was about $35,000 for the features I wanted," Bakerman said. "We are a small firm with 35 attorneys, and I couldn't justify [the cost of] moving to Infrastructure VMware ESX Server."Virtual Iron's lower price and ease of use
Based on the Xen open source hypervisor, Virtual Iron software proved to be more than a good value; installation was a cinch and the support is good, Bakerman said. "I did the entire software installation on my own, where with VMware ESX, I would have had to hire a contractor for a few days to show me how to manage it," he said.
Bakerman moved the firm's accounting system over to a virtual machine (VM) test environment and it went smoothly, so he virtualized their BlackBerry server as well. "I saw an improvement to the point where my email was getting to my BlackBerry before [arriving on] my desktop," he said.
Following the impressive results, Bakerman intends to virtualize as much of the firm's data center as possible. Owen Bird bought a new Dell PowerEdge 1950 server with Intel Corp.'s Xeon dual-core processors and two Dell PowerEdge 2950s. In turn, Bakerman jettisoned four outdated servers and plans to clear out about 10 additional underutilized servers by June. The goal is to have just six physical servers running virtual machines.
"We plan to virtualize everything," he said. "We now have four terminal servers hosting all of our users: about 20 users per server. We are running our Exchange Server on VMs, and I hope to virtualize the Exchange operating system with Virtual Iron as well. If it works, which looks promising, we will leave it," Bakerman said. "There are a few servers we won't virtualize, like our production database [an SQL and an accounting package] because the software provider doesn't support [a] virtual environment."
Consolidating servers with virtualization has reduced power and cooling costs and prevents an expensive server room expansion and additional staffing, he said.
"The cost savings is probably $100,000, and the time savings for me are incredible. Once everything is virtualized, I can run everything from my desktop remotely from my office or at home. I don't have to hire someone else, and I would have if we kept adding servers," Bakerman said.
Now the firm also uses Virtual Iron's high availability and disaster recovery capabilities -- LiveMigration and LiveCapacity -- for automatic failover and automated policy-based management.
Bakerman said even if the firm had the money to invest in VMware's offerings, which many users say is too expensive, Virtual Iron would still be his choice because of its support and ease of use.VMware's lost-cost alternative
Meanwhile, VMware continues to defend its pricing. According to Reza Malekzadeh, VMware's senior director of product marketing and alliances, polls of the company's customers show that pricing is not a significant factor in users' decision to virtualize, but maturity and reliability of the platform are.
"When you virtualize, you are changing your IT infrastructure, and VMware is a reliable and mature platform. We've been doing this for 10 years now and have over 20,000 users who can attest to our reliability and performance," he said. "Also, on average, the ROI is seen within nine months."Malekzadeh said that competitors like Virtual Iron don't offer as many features as does VMware does, and asserted that VMware's hypervisor is the "best on the market." And if VMware ESX is too expensive, VMware Server is a good choice, he said, because it is free. The company also offers a VMware Server bundle that includes technical support and management capabilities for a lower price than that of VMware ESX Server, Malekzadeh said.
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