Case Studies

Virtualization Case Study: Applied Ecological Services

Faced with aging servers, this ecological restoration company found IT renewal by deploying a comprehensive virtualization solution.
This story appears in the December 2011 issue of BizTech Magazine.
John Norman (left) and Patrick Daniels of Applied Ecological Services
For the cost of purchasing 14 servers, John Norman (left) and Patrick Daniels moved to a virtualized environment, consolidated to two servers and bought a storage area network.
Credit: Darren Hauck

John Norman, Director of IT

Patrick Daniels, Network administrator

Company: Applied Ecological Services
Location: Brodhead, Wis.
Description: An ecological restoration company
Employees: 150, including three IT administrators
Project: Standardized on VMware vSphere; two HP DL380 G7s, running 17 virtual servers; and a NetApp FAS2040 SAN. Implementation began in April. Consolidated 14 servers to two. The project, which included training and consulting, cost about $150,000.

BIZTECH: What were the top drivers for your server virtualization?

DANIELS: Applied Ecological Services was running out of storage space on each of its existing 14 aging servers. These servers had multiple roles on them, which were sometimes in conflict with each other. Most were running less than 2 percent CPU utilization. By putting these systems on a virtual platform on new hardware, we could get more reliable equipment with greatly increased flexibility and separate servers for each of the primary server roles used in our company.

BIZTECH: What is the single most important factor to consider before implementing server virtualization?

DANIELS: The best thing that you can do is plan, plan and plan some more.

BIZTECH: What were your most important first steps?

DANIELS: We recognized that to get it to work right, we needed more expertise than what we currently had on staff, which is one of the primary reasons why we went with CDW’s services. Using CDW’s weeklong Jumpstart training, we received training at the same time we implemented the servers.

BIZTECH: What were the key challenges during implementation?

NORMAN: It was essentially having the time set aside to properly configure and get everything in place. We did try to anticipate all the possible issues we would run into. The implementation was just two to three weeks. We were not only virtualizing, but also upgrading our Microsoft Exchange Server. We needed to upgrade our networking equipment and ran into a few glitches in terms of configuration.

BIZTECH:What, if anything, helped you convince senior management of virtualization’s value?

NORMAN: Management knew it was time to replace the 14 servers. For the same cost of purchasing 14 new servers, we moved to a virtualized environment and purchased a storage area network. And now it allows us to expand our services without us having to put more money into hardware.

BIZTECH: What is the main benefit your organization receives from virtualization?

DANIELS: There are several main benefits, the most immediate and obvious being reduction of physical hardware, which reduces power consumption and heat generation. But the virtual environment’s flexibility and ease of management is probably a bigger, if less recognizable, benefit.

Preparing for Virtualization

Small businesses say they took these steps to assess their data centers before implementation:

  • 74% Identified candidates for virtualization
  • 61% Created a virtualization plan
  • 59% Identified specific goals
  • 56% Identified associated costs and created a budget
  • 55% Obtained senior management approval on plans and budget

SOURCE: CDW Small Business Server Virtualization Roadmap

NORMAN: The main benefit, from my standpoint, is it opens the door to other technological environments like desktop virtualization.

BIZTECH: How do you expect to benefit from virtualization in the future?

NORMAN: Our existing servers had their own separate backup tape systems or external drives. Virtualization will let us use more modern backup and disaster recovery tools. We're going to have a company solution rather than an a la carte process. We are talking to outside experts to help us with the many options available, including hardware and cloud options. We're talking about purchasing additional NetApp devices that will allow us to replicate data to remote offices. We would also like to have our VMs failover without the users noticing.

BIZTECH: How are you measuring success?

NORMAN: Our measure of success will be the ease of use and productivity of our users. The main measure of success is the fact that applications are running much faster. As we continue our implementation, our users will do things faster than they've been able to in the past, allowing them to be much more productive. Deploying virtual desktops will further improve productivity with easier access to applications.

For more on the benefits and successes of businesses as they migrate to server virtualization, read the feature story "Small Businesses Are On the Road to Virualization."

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About the Author

Wylie Wong

Wylie Wong is a freelance journalist who specializes in business, technology and sports and is a frequent contributor to the CDW family of technology magazines. In 2005, Wong co-wrote San Francisco Giants: Where Have You Gone? and remains an avid fan of our national pastime. Follow him on Twitter @WylieWong.

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