Guide to SQL Server virtualization best practices
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The Microsoft SQL Server 2012 release on April 1 will bring licensing changes that result in higher fees for some customers. IT pros looking for ways to avoid paying more may find the answer in a new server application virtualization product.
Fort Collins, Colo.-based DH2i’s new application virtualization software, DxConsole for SQL Server, virtualizes SQL Server instances and consolidates the databases, servers and storage into private cloud utilities that can be moved around.
“You can drag and drop individual SQL instances … and stack them to better utilize the environment,” said Don Boxley, CEO and founder of DH2i.“This reduces the number of physical servers you need, and the number of [Windows and SQL] server licenses.”
Microsoft SQL Server 2012’s per-core licensing means SQL shops that license per physical server must license each core in a server, with a minimum of four core licenses for each CPU in the server. Companies that run servers with CPUs that have six or more cores will end up paying more per server.
For virtualized environments, SQL Server 2012 can be licensed per virtual machine (VM) or per server. Companies that choose per-VM licensing pay for the virtual cores allocated within the VM (minimum of 4 core licenses per VM).
Conversely, companies that virtualize SQL Server using VMware or Hyper-V server virtualization software have to run a Windows operating system within each SQL VM, which means paying for extra Windows and SQL licenses. This also means IT has to patch and manage each VM.
Lower licensing costs seem certain
“If [DH2i’s] solution offers a mechanism to manage instances of SQL Server within the same Windows server instance, it’s absolutely lower cost than the same approach would be with true virtualization for everything,” said Wes Miller, analyst with Directions on Microsoft, an independent analysis firm based in Kirkland, Wash.
In addition, a single Windows server running four instances of SQL Server is significantly lighter, in terms of overhead, than the same Windows server hosting four VMs running SQL Server, he said.
“The problem with [instances] has classically been state separation and management of databases across these instances, which in many ways isn’t that different from running in virtual machines,” Miller said. “But the interesting thing is that you can run multiple instances of SQL Server without incurring the licensing cost hit you would with the exact same number running in virtual machines.”
Microsoft’s approach to alleviating the SQL server sprawl burden is to virtualize SQL Server on Hyper-V. The company endorses Hewlett Packard Co.’s Database Consolidation Appliance, which is bundled with HP’s BladeSystem, and an integrated management software stack from HP and Microsoft.
With that approach, IT pros can reduce the number of physical servers by running SQL VMs on HP servers, but again, each VM has an instance of Windows within it.
DH2i claims that one of its customers, a financial services firm on the West Coast, went from more than 100 physical boxes running SQL Server down to just eight using its software.
Another company, Sharp HealthCare, a Southern California health care provider, went from 125 physical machines running SQL Servers down to just four – eliminating 120 SQL Server licenses, said Steven E. Simpauco, the organization’s manager of database administration.
Previously, Sharpe HealthCare had used HP PolyServe Software to consolidate SQL Server into nodes and to centralize storage, but HP discontinued the software and will end support soon. Simpauco found DH2i, a start-up company, in his search for a similar offering. During the proof of concept, he found that DxConsole offers similar functionality and then some.
For instance, DH2i’s software supports VM nodes, allows for a higher SQL consolidation ratio, supports a higher maximum file size (16 petabytes versus 2 terabytes in PolyServe) and the pricing – $8,500 per CPU – is “good,” he said.
“You save a substantial amount when you use a product like this to consolidate down to fewer physical systems,” Simpauco said. “Now we license one OS to house a number of SQL instances.”
DH2i’s customers with 15 or more SQL Server instances may reduce their total cost of ownership by 50% over three years, according to Boxley.
To SQL Server and beyond
For now, HD2i’s software only supports SQL Server but the company has SharePoint, Exchange Server and other applications in its sights. The company also hopes to support Oracle database apps – though Boxley admits that Oracle probably won’t support a third-party company virtualizing its database systems. “We know they don’t play nice,” Boxley said.
DH2i’s management console does not integrate with popular virtualization management tools, such as VMware vCenter, but the company hopes to integrate with Microsoft, Xen and VMware management consoles eventually, Boxley said.
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