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Virtual server consolidation strategy saves money, improves backups

A strong server consolidation strategy helped one consulting firm save thousands of dollars. Virtual server consolidation also made backups and management easier.

By Stephen J. Bigelow, Senior Technology Writer

The potential for virtual server consolidation is extremely attractive to companies that specialize in providing and managing their client's network resources.

Any organization might face the challenges brought on by dozens -- or even hundreds -- of servers, but these companies can easily fill a data center with systems dedicated to their various clients. 

You can do $21,000 worth of work for $9,000.

Jose Adams, CSK Technologies

CSK Technologies, an IT consulting and medical network management company in Knoxville, Tenn., developed a virtual server consolidation strategy to meet these challenges.

"Our clients had a lot of various applications, [and] each required [its] own bare-iron hardware," said Jose Adams, IT consultant with CSK. "Most of the hardware would sit and run at 1% or 2% utilization for months on end."

Virtual server consolidation testing
CSK had to contend with expensive environmental controls to maintain its servers, which eventually led to power-disruptive distribution problems. The first step of the virtual server consolidation strategy was testing, in order to develop skills and experience with the technology.

"We built a test environment first to get our feet wet with [Citrix] XenServer and with our NFS-based storage solution," said Adams, adding that testing went a long way toward streamlining the actual deployment. 

Once testing was complete, the server consolidation strategy drastically reduced the company's physical server count -- from 20 to seven -- while lowering power and environmental demands. Establishing a virtual server environment also had a profound impact on backups, replacing traditional tape-based backups with virtual machine migration.

"It's nice to have a virtual machine file that we can move," Adams said. "[We can] just start up on another machine and take snapshots of these machines every two hours without very much overhead to the network. … You can easily get 7:1 density for your virtual servers, so one $9,000 server can do what approximately seven basic $3,500 servers can do. That's to say that you can do $21,000 worth of work for $9,000."

Benefits of a virtual server consolidation strategy

He added that buying two of those $9,000 servers provides full redundancy and is cheaper and less troublesome to maintain than the seven independent servers without redundancy.

The payback should be immediate in a new, fully virtualized deployment. But the payback when implementing a virtual server consolidation strategy in an existing infrastructure is often longer, because of hardware write-offs and conversions of existing servers to host virtual machines. Although Adams declined to share specific cost figures for business reasons, he said he expects a three-year return on investment for CSK.

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