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Slumberland shuns VMware for Hyper-V on Cisco UCS

While Cisco Systems' Unified Computing System is a natural fit with VMware's vSphere, a furniture retailer chose the cost savings and manageability of Hyper-V over VMware.

Despite VMware's cozy relationship with Cisco Systems and its parent EMC , users like furniture retailer Slumberland have forged their own path when it comes to virtual data center infrastructure.

While paying lip service to interoperability, the three companies formed the Virtual Computing Environment (VCE) coalition and rushed to create an "end to end" offering (aka Vblock), consisting of Cisco servers and networking equipment, EMC storage, and VMware virtualization.

Little Canada, Minn.-based Slumberland Inc., on the other hand, runs Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS) blade chassis and networking equipment but uses Compellent's Storage Center SAN on the back end and Microsoft's Hyper-V as its preferred hypervisor, according to Seth Mitchell, infrastructure team manager.

Pricing reigns supreme
For companies like Slumberland, total cost of ownership still drives IT decision making. Mitchell said the decision to deploy UCS came about last year, as the company looked to replace 95 physical servers from IBM, Dell Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. with denser blade hardware to support virtual servers. The UCS system is expensive, typically in the six-figure range, but Mitchell said that cost was less than extending maintenance on or individually replacing the company's existing servers. "It was a six-figure price just to renew maintenance. At that price, we could get started with UCS."

[Microsoft's Hyper-V has] the functionality we care about.


Previously, Slumberland deployed Cisco's networking equipment, which made the vendor's server offering more attractive, Mitchell said. Slumberland was also interested in unifying Fibre Channel storage and Ethernet networking through FCoE, a protocol Cisco has championed. Currently, Slumberland has six full-width B250 M2 blades in redundant UCS 5108 chassis to support 120 virtual guests, attached to one another and the company's 70 terabytes (TB) of SAN storage through redundant Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) fabrics.

While going with Cisco for servers as well as FCoE was a natural move, Mitchell said the hardware investment left the company without the budget for VMware licenses, despite Cisco's aggressive cross-marketing with the virtualization company.

"Microsoft's hypervisor does 80% of the functionality of VMware's, and it's the functionality we care about," Mitchell said. And it met those needs at the right price. "VMware makes a great product, but the Hyper-V license is built into Windows Data Center Server for an unlimited number of guests."

His staff's familiarity with Windows was also a plus. "Hyper-V required no training," he said. "Windows administrators found it and SCVMM [System Center Virtual Machine Manager] a very familiar interface. We have two systems admins … supporting 2,300 users, so that was important."

Pros and cons of Hyper-V with UCS
This isn't to say Mitchell sees Hyper-V as a panacea. "We're a private company without SOX [Sarbanes-Oxley] or other stringent requirements having to do with disaster recovery," he said. The company relies on its Compellent SAN to replicate data to a secondary disaster recovery site, and is looking into ways to replicate virtual system images affordably.

"For things like memory oversubscription or automated disaster recovery, on some [customer reference] calls [for UCS], I will flat-out recommend VMware to people," he said. He doesn't rule out a vmixed-hypervisor environment in the future to take advantage of automated DR features in VMware's vSphere.

Secondary products such as converged network adapters (CNAs) are also not as advanced for Hyper-V running on UCS as they are for VMware in the same environment. For example, Cisco has built a "Palo" CNA specifically for VMware which allows up to 128 virtual network interface cards (NICs); the Cisco M71 KR dual-port CNA used by Slumberland with Hyper-V only offers four NICs. "That has some performance implications for some environments," acknowledged Mitchell.

On the other hand, the company is interested in Microsoft's software products that support Hyper-V, particularly for data protection. Mitchell said he feels Volume Shadow Copy Service Snapshots (VSS) work more efficiently in a Hyper-V environment with a "control domain" to coordinate snapshots for all applications on a virtual host than with VMware's more limited integration with VSS. Slumberland is also evaluating Microsoft's System Center Operations Manager as a data center orchestration tool and Data Protection Manager for image-level backup, which can be integrated into Compellent's replication through scripts, Mitchell said. "Both VMware and Hyper-V work well," Mitchell recalls. "But when we were starting with no money and no additional people, we looked at VMware and said, 'What would we be missing that we need'? We didn't find anything we needed for our business."

Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for Write to her at .

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