Centralized Server Virtualization Drives IT Cost Reduction
Published: October 2009
Are you faced with the competing demands of server growth and cost control? Learn how server and application growth at Microsoft has matured to a model where technologies such as virtualization power a centralized and consolidated server and application management system. In addition to reducing costs associated with physical space and power demands, the model improves server and application manageability.
Products & Technologies
Virtualizing the data center has the potential to achieve at least a 50 percent reduction in Microsoft IT's (MSIT) hard costs for data center space and power. Virtualizing also offers the advantage of increased flexibility and agility, making it a win/win scenario. MSIT can reduce costs while improving services.
MSIT's Virtualization Strategy for the Data Center
MSIT's virtualization strategy is very straightforward: virtualize as many of the enterprise data center servers as quickly as possible. The strategy is centered on three key pillars:
- The virtualization technology itself
- A utility services approach to building services with those technologies
- Leveraging automation and self-service as much as possible
MSIT has been working to improve utilization through server virtualization since 2004, starting with the Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 product. MSIT learned early on that the focus had to be on the workload. It was crucial to understand the average CPU load, the peaks and valleys, and the memory and IO requirements. Equipped with this information, MSIT was better able to have a data-driven discussion with customers.
MSIT collects performance data using Microsoft System Center Operations Manager (SCOM). SCOM provides the daily average, minimums, and maximums going back over a year for each server, and 15-minute increments for the previous three months. Working with this data, MSIT classified those servers with less than an average of 5 percent CPU utilization as "cold." But MSIT found so many servers with less than 1 percent CPU utilization that they decided to add a "permafrost" category. Using the data, MSIT targeted the low-end workload, but still estimated that 30 percent of the data center servers could be virtualized. MSIT also normalized the discussion around performance. For example, MSIT found that an older two-processor system was outperformed by a new single-processor virtual machine.
Benefits Go Beyond Server Consolidation and Utilization
"This was one of the key lessons learned. Don't default to just virtualizing everything that's in there today. Take every opportunity to clean out 'the garage' and do it for both servers and storage."
Virtualization benefits include more than server consolidation and utilization, however. New business continuity and disaster-recovery options are available due to the fact that virtualized systems are easier to move around. The availability to freeze and thaw virtual machines brings additional flexibility as well, allowing new levels of efficiencies when working with multiple configurations or exercising fallback scenarios. With the Hyper-V technology included in Windows Server® 2008 R2, MSIT has been able to address larger workloads, including multi-processor and clustered systems. With Hyper-V, MSIT can also oversubscribe the physical processors, allowing more granularity in managing resource utilization. MSIT estimates 80 percent of the workload in the data center can be virtualized with Hyper-V and is working to accelerate the technical refresh of the physical servers as quickly as possible. The remaining 20 percent of the servers are extremely large systems that consume all resources by themselves—the SAP or enterprise data warehouse systems. MSIT is approximately 30 percent virtualized across production data centers and lab environments but expects to cross the 50 percent mark in the coming year.
Standardizing the Compute Utility Service
MSIT offers virtual machines in a few standard sizes that cover the majority of business needs: one, two, and four-processor systems, each with a slightly different memory footprint. MSIT also has a SQL-specific virtual machine SKU that does not oversubscribe the physical processors and includes additional memory footprint options. Both the host and virtual machine configurations are highly standardized to ensure maximum performance and consistent operational support.
For the underlying technology, MSIT uses blade servers for the physical host, combined with enterprise-class storage area network systems to create something called a "scale unit." A scale unit is basically a large chunk of IT infrastructure deployed all at once and designed for virtualization. This design maximizes the efficiency in terms of power, space, and flexibility through the logical allocation of resources. By virtualizing server, network, and storage, MSIT creates reusable pools of infrastructure resources that can be allocated as needed, and in this way can literally deliver just-in-time capacity.
Scale-Unit Approach Sees Results
Using the scale-unit approach, MSIT saw a net reduction of 88 percent in the infrastructure capacity required. There was a significant reduction in the amount of power and space needed, and also in the number of physical cables and connections needed. MSIT originally estimated that they could reduce the power footprint by 66 percent, but that was just from virtualizing straight across, taking the 572 servers and turning them into virtual machines. After starting the migration, MSIT found servers that could simply be decommissioned. This was one of the key lessons learned. Don't default to just virtualizing everything that's in there today. Take every opportunity to clean out "the garage" and do it for both servers and storage.
The Power Company Model
"With the rightsizing processes in place, MSIT is able to direct customers to the right platform, sized to their business needs. The basic rule is a virtual machine as the default and physical servers by exception only."
MSIT's implementation of virtualization technology fits into a broader strategy—the development of IT utility services—to deliver IT services to MSIT's internal customers. This is an approach MSIT has been refining for several years and is based on the idea of creating large, shared, centralized services, just like a power or cable company. MSIT's customers should not have to worry about adding infrastructure capacity. They should be able to just plug in and get what they need. MSIT also has a pay-for-use billing model. Just like a true utility, customers pay only when they consume the service. Leveraging the utility model, MSIT expects to win customers by providing superior service at a lower cost. Customers should be able to focus more on their core business—the application or service they are running, not the hardware or underlying technology. The utility approach drives savings because MSIT can buy less equipment overall and leverage greater volume discounts. Operational costs are also lower because reliability is improved through higher standards compliance.
The core utility solutions leverage a foundation of storage and backup utility services, both of which get very expensive if done individually. Storage provides three tiers of service: high-speed dedicated drives for performance, standard shared fiber-channeled drives, and ATA drives for low-intensity workloads. Backup is based on the Microsoft Data Protection Manager product, which provides continuous data protection using a disk-to-disk-to-tape approach. Data Protection Manager saves money in a number of ways. MSIT retired many older-tape libraries because they could back up to disk. This lowered operational costs due to the increased reliability of disks and lowered network costs because only block-level changes are transmitted after the initial replication. Faster backups and restores mean less downtime for the business applications and services. Below the utility solution level are other centralized services like procurement that enable more efficiency. Performance, capacity, and technical refresh challenges can all be managed more effectively because of the centralized control of all resources.
Rightsizing Business Requirements
Despite having a superior technical solution due to virtualization, MSIT found that adoption rates were low initially because customers were making emotional purchasing decisions. Some customers did not believe virtual machines would work, or they had no experience with virtual machines. Other customers simply did not want to change and wanted their dedicated physical servers. Because of this, MSIT added a rightsizing funnel to focus on getting customers into the appropriately sized systems and shifting the discussion from what they wanted to what they needed. Instead of buying the biggest system they could get their hands on, or a new four-way processor because they had a four-way processor before, MSIT wanted customers to size for the near term. Since MSIT can grow storage or server capacity as needed, it was imperative to stop sizing for the maximum capacity that might be needed some day. With the rightsizing processes in place, MSIT is able to direct customers to the right platform, sized to their business needs. The basic rule is a virtual machine as the default and physical servers by exception only. The net result is a huge win. Customers can focus on the application-level work, and MSIT eliminated much of the over-capacity that was being purchased "just in case." Key metrics are disk utilization going from 30 percent to 65 or 70 percent and CPU utilization going from an average of less than 7 percent up to the 35�40 percent range. By driving this increased utilization, MSIT has seen a 25 to 30 percent reduction in spending on server hardware and expects continued savings as they push to higher levels of virtualization.
"By leveraging Hyper-V, MSIT has the potential to virtualize up to 80 percent of the data center over the next two to three years."
The core products MSIT uses are Windows Server 2008 R2, Microsoft SQL Server® 2008, and the Microsoft System Center products. MSIT uses:
- System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) to provision the virtual machines, migrate the workloads, and tune performance per instance. A key feature in SCVMM is the self-service portal that enables customers to perform standard tasks like provisioning the virtual machines or storing or retrieving images from the SCVMM library. SCVMM also has the concept of tokens built in to limit the allocation of resources. Customers can be assigned tokens that will allow them to consume only a specific amount of resources, preventing any one customer from adversely affecting a shared service.
- System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) for monitoring what is happening at the OS level for both the hosts and virtual machines, sending alerts and auto-ticketing instances to the global operations team. MSIT also uses SCOM to collect the performance data to understand the performance trends for each system.
- System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) for leveraging the desired configuration management capability. MSIT can check key configuration items on a regular basis to ensure nothing has changed.
- System Center Data Protection Manager (SCDPM) to provide backups for continuous data protection.
Key Lessons Learned
The key lessons MSIT learned in virtualizing the data center are:
- Normalize the discussion around capability. Virtual machines can perform as well as or better than physical systems and should look and feel the same to customers.
- Measure and track utilization to fully understand the requirements and dependencies of the workloads being virtualized.
- Abstract the platform. Let the businesses focus on their core work, not the underlying technology.
- Adopt virtualization with development testing and low-intensity production workloads first to gain operations experience.
- Leverage automation and self-service capabilities as much as possible.
- Extend virtualization efforts to include storage and network as well as to develop the foundation for future dynamic infrastructure capabilities.
Virtualization used properly is a win/win scenario because it allows a large enterprise to drive significant savings while improving services. Even though Microsoft virtualization and management technologies are very capable, business and operational process changes are necessary to maximize savings potential. Adopting utility services, rightsizing, and centralized procurement and capacity management models works well for MSIT.
In the past three years, MSIT virtualized 25 percent of the corporate server infrastructure using Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 alone. By leveraging Hyper-V, MSIT has the potential to virtualize up to 80 percent of the data center over the next two to three years. MSIT is implementing the next generation of infrastructure architecture to more fully take advantage of machine virtualization benefits. This lays the foundation for making dynamic IT a reality, where MSIT can align infrastructure resources and resource consumption directly with business demands.
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