Case Studies

Virtualization Case Study: Rio Grande Pacific

Server virtualization decreased maintenance and increased security and uptime for this railroad holding company.
This story appears in the December 2011 issue of BizTech Magazine.
Jason Brown and Scott Traylor of Rio Grande Pacific
Jason Brown (left) and Scott Traylor say saving money on server hardware is a major benefit of virtualization.
Credit: Dan Bryant

Jason Brown,
Director of IT and network planning
Scott Traylor,
Executive vice president
Company: Rio Grande Pacific
Location: Fort Worth, Texas
Description: Railroad holding company with four wholly owned subsidiaries in six states
Employees: 170 total, with five IT staffers
Project: Standardized on VMware vSphere, new HP DL380 servers and EMC VNXe3100 SANs. In 2011, Rio Grande Pacific virtualized its servers when building a new data center. It consolidated separate e-mail and other applications at remote sites and centralized them at the new facility. The company collapsed nine servers into three.

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

BROWN: High availability and disaster recovery. We implemented server virtualization because we were running into issues with maintenance. If you take an e-mail server down for even 15 minutes, dispatchers and customer service employees would lose communications with our customers and with other railroads, so it was a problem.

We now have two physical servers running 15 to 20 VMs and an EMC SAN at our main data center in Nebraska. A third server is running VMware’s vCenter ­Server software. And for disaster recovery, we have another two physical servers and a backup EMC SAN in our Idaho location.

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

BROWN: Saving money on hardware. It’s certainly about reliability, but we were looking for more: fault tolerance and failover to other sites. Half of our server inventory was end-of-life, so it was a good time to do this and dovetail it with a new server room and data center buildout.

BIZTECH: What were your most important first steps?

BROWN: One is trying to get the approval process through upper management and explaining the benefits.

Our company always has different initiatives going on, so the ability to build a solid infrastructure was well understood by management.

TRAYLOR: The planning stages were also key. There’s a tremendous amount of planning in terms of the electrical and air conditioning requirements and the physical location of the equipment. Jason did a lot to assemble components and prepare for the cutover.

BIZTECH: What were the key challenges during implementation?

96%
The percentage of top managers who support server virtualization when they understand its benefits

SOURCE: CDW Small Business Server Virtualization Roadmap

BROWN: The biggest challenge was provisioning the iSCSI network on the SAN. I never deployed iSCSI in 20 years of IT, so that required a lot of research. Previously, all our physical servers had their own local disk arrays. We never had a SAN device until now.

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

BROWN: Discussing uptime, availability and disaster recovery — and our low tolerance for downtime. We needed our technology infrastructure to match our company’s aggressive growth plan.

TRAYLOR: Jason handles the IT functions, not just for the corporate office, but he oversees 12 remote locations. One of the benefits he saw from a management point of view was that he could centralize some of what was happening out on the field. He saw that as an opportunity to simplify his life and control things onsite.

BIZTECH: What is the main benefit your organization is realizing from virtualization to date?

BROWN: The main benefit is uptime and the reliability of the infrastructure. I can do maintenance in the middle of day by moving VMs between ESX hosts. It’s a wonderful thing.

BIZTECH: How is your organization measuring success?

BROWN: It goes back to network reliability and minimal downtime, if any. Our ROI will be measured as new systems come online, which they undoubtedly will in the next six months. I can measure ROI better then.

BIZTECH: What is the main benefit your organization expects from its virtualization implementation in the coming years?

BROWN: If you figure a modest server costs $6,000 to $7,000, we can have larger savings down the road by not having to buy a new server every time we add a new application. This also lets us handle increased server loads from newly acquired companies.

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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