"The separation [with the outsourced provider] was hostile," recalled Eric Mynster, an IT operations manager at the hospital. "We weren't allowed access to the remote data center, so we had to use software from PlateSpin to create virtual images of our servers beforehand and then start a synchronization process with the production servers."
Data migration with virtual images
Mercy Memorial used PlateSpin Migrate, data migration software that was previously used mainly for P2V but that has evolved into a server migration and protection tool.
Working with technology consultants from CDW Healthcare, Mercy Memorial deployed eight Dell servers running VMware ESX and several EMC storage arrays in its new data center. Then, engineers used PlateSpin Migrate to create virtual images of the physical servers and load them onto their new VMware environment over the wide area network.
But the ease with which the migration happened belies the anxiety the project caused at Mercy Memorial. The servers being brought back in house ran the hospital's production applications, such as patient folders, imaging, radiology and the like.
"Ensuring that those records got back safely was a big fear," Mynster said. "A lot of people in the hospital administration were worried. But it all worked in the end."
Paying for P2V
The vast majority of server migration projects -- local or remote -- employ free tools such as VMware Converter, Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager and XenConvert, said Chris Wolf, a senior analyst at Burton Group. But for larger projects or situations with specific requirements, "PlateSpin Migrate is still the gold standard when it comes to doing a migration," he said.
Besides its synchronization capability, PlateSpin Migrate also sports better operating system support than many free tools (it can 'P2V' Linux and Solaris x86 systems) and can convert between various hypervisors. It also offers coveted virtual-to-physical (V2P) functionality, which reverts systems back to a physical box to fulfill support requirements.
Another useful feature is the ability to convert to an image file, said Andrew Storrs, an independent IT consultant in Vancouver who is currently using PlateSpin Migrate to P2V 300 servers. "You convert the server into an image file, drop it on a CD and FedEx and restore it to a virtual machine, then synchronize the changes," he explained. "That adds an extra step, but it comes in really handy when you're talking about consolidating data centers geographically, and you have bandwidth limitations."
List price for PlateSpin Migrate starts at $365 per migration, but Wolf said that the company is known for aggressive volume pricing. Granted, that's a lot more than free, but "you get what you pay for," Wolf said.
Hot cloning gets the go-ahead
Generally speaking, P2V tools have come a long way, especially with regards to hot-cloning – converting an image while the system is online, said Eric Siebert, a system administrator at Boston Market. "Cold cloning is typically recommended because the OS isn't up and running, so there's no chance of corruption," he said. "But hot cloning has improved a lot."
And in cases like those at Mercy Memorial, hot cloning is the only option. "In theory, cold cloning is the way to go -- without a doubt. But in practice, it's not always practical to cold clone an app because of the time and cost," Wolf said. "A lot of shops will start with a hot clone and stand it up in a lab and see how it behaves." Failing that, they'll move to a cold clone or manually rebuild the system.
"Migrations always suck, but a tool like PlateSpin will make 90% to 95% of them a lot easier," he said.
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Alex Barrett, News Director.