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Virtualization Case Study: Curse

Seeking more agility to accomodate its websites, Curse turned to virtualization.

Michael Comperda,
Vice president of technology
Bryan McLemore,
Linux systems team lead
Company: Curse
Locations: San Francisco and Huntsville, Ala.
Description: A network of websites that supports online video games with add-ons, forums, wikis, videos and databases
Employees: 75, three IT staffers
Project: Standardized on Citrix XenServer, HP DL Series servers and an EMC VNX 5300 SAN. Project began in June 2011. In the initial rollout, the company installed 70 to 100 virtual machines. This fall, Curse will add another 150 VMs.

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

COMPERDA: Greater business agility. We have recently surpassed 16 million monthly unique visitors. Over the past several years, we’ve made a number of site acquisitions that run on a Linux Apache, MySQL and PHP (LAMP) stack. While we’ve become experts in scaling our in-house Microsoft .NET applications, finding the same success with LAMP was difficult. Our virtualization plan was central to addressing this problem. We can now launch new or acquired sites in minutes, as opposed to the hours it would take before. Our No. 2 driver was security. By containing each website to its own virtual machine (or several), we can contain any potential security issue, mitigating network- wide vulnerability.

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

McLEMORE: Some types of applications, especially those with considerable I/O requirements, don’t do well with virtualization, so it’s important to know if virtualization is applicable for your apps.

BIZTECH: What were the key challenges during implementation?

McLEMORE: To do a live migration of VMs between hosts, we needed to figure out how to use shared storage with VMs without it being cost-prohibitive. There are multiple ways to do that, but most required investments in Fibre Channel Host Bus Adapters and 10 Gigabit Ethernet iSCSI connections. Our EMC VNX SAN has block-level and file-level storage. So we used traditional file-sharing technology — the VNX’s built-in NFS services — to provide a shared storage pool for easy VM migration at no additional cost. Figuring out how to do that took some time.

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

COMPERDA: Taking something in technical terms and translating it to business terms can be difficult. However, we could easily identify the components of this strategy that benefited the business side. Uptime and quick disaster recovery were the two clearest value propositions.

If a site is offline, we have the potential to really alienate our user base, and our user base is our most valuable asset. From a revenue standpoint, if our sites are offline, we are unable to meet our obligations to advertising partners.

60%
The percentage of small businesses that say their virtualization implementation has improved the efficiency of their IT infrastructure

SOURCE: CDW Small Business Server Virtualization Roadmap

Our virtualization plan was central to our disaster recovery plan. To implement a disaster recovery plan without virtualization would have been very expensive and could have easily doubled our costs. So we took the approach of doing data replication and leveraging our virtualized infrastructure. We invested in EMC Data Domain equipment, which allows us to back up, deduplicate and replicate all of our mission-critical data. In the event of a disaster, we can now easily bring our sites and services back online at another location.

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

McLEMORE: We are already seeing the main benefits — stability, agility and security.

BIZTECH: How is your organization measuring success?

COMPERDA: In quantitative aspects, we have an external monitoring service that checks the availability of our websites as our users experience them. If an outage occurs, we are notified about it, and we can fix it. Our sites now meet our internal service-level agreement objectives. Qualitatively, we now have happier users because their favorite websites are now more reliable and responsive.

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

McLEMORE: I have templates inside of XenCenter (management software), and it takes 15 to 20 minutes to launch a new site, compared to a couple of hours before. So it’s speed, stability and, to some extent, security. We’ve gone from 99.9 percent uptime to 99.99 percent uptime.

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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Nov 23 2011 Spice IT

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