Virtualisation saves AA thousands of dollars

Cost reduction, remote management and minimal disruption of services are some of the benefits

Virtualisation has proved its value at the Automobile Association, saving thousands of dollars in server replacement and resolving maintenance problems.

When network manager Thomas Layzell began to investigate the options 18 months ago, to replace aging Microsoft servers, he found it difficult to source reference sites in New Zealand because the technology was relatively new.

“We were being quite adventurous. We eventually found two or three.”

He approached incumbent supplier Axon, which hadn’t itself been involved previously in virtualisation.

Axon began the project with two large Hewlett-Packard servers at each of the AA’s two sites. The servers are connected to a SAN, enabling load balancing. The virtual servers sit on the SAN, and the two sites are mirrors of each other for disaster recovery.

The AA has one of the largest data networks in New Zealand, running Telecom Private Office at 120 locations, with sites varying in size from hundreds of people to one-person offices.

Portable units can access the network wirelessly, allowing staff visiting small towns once a month to process licence applications with a laptop and camera. There are also 170 emergency call vehicles that use in-vehicle laptops to connect to the network’s dispatch system.

Axon implemented VMWare ESX servers and upgraded the entire range of servers from NT 4.0 and Exchange 5.5 to MS Server 2003 and Exchange 2003.

As a full-time operation, AA had previously found it difficult to make maintenance time available. The use of VMWare has largely resolved that because servers can be moved from one physical host to another and be worked on in the middle of the day with no disruption of services.

“Since we’ve deployed virtualisation, it’s stopped us buying an endless stream of servers,” Layzell says. “We’ve probably saved $2000 a server and our machine room has been tidied up, with much less load on air conditioning.”

Another benefit is the ease of remote management. Layzell lives on Waiheke Island and can drive all the servers from there if necessary.

“There are also consistent management tools, and it’s very easy to do testing. The servers can be provisioned very quickly; that’s invaluable for project work.”

But Layzell says there are some downsides. “Application vendors are slow to take responsibility for problems — it’s easy for them to say ‘it must be the VMWare’ when it really isn’t.”

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