Companies fight server sprawl

With server use tipped to grow in coming years, many firms are turning to virtualisation to avoid having to buy more servers. Patrick Thibodeau reports

When it comes to server sprawl, the big picture isn’t pretty.

Analyst firm IDC expects the number of servers in the US to grow from approximately 2.8 million now to 4.9 million by 2009. Datacentres “are becoming more and more swollen”, causing IT costs to rise quickly, IDC analyst Vernon Turner says.

The constant need for more horsepower, and the accompanying expense, are leading some IT operations to slowly turn to virtualisation technology.

The IT staff at media services provider Deluxe Laboratories manage about 400 servers and the count is growing by about 30% per year, says Mark Winter, the firm’s executive vice president for IT.

The company is testing virtualisation technology installed by consulting firm Savvis, but Winters estimates it will take three years to expand virtualisation throughout the firm.

“I’m getting to the point where I’m having difficulty managing,” Winter says.

Server growth has pushed the company’s ratio of servers to systems administrators to about 30:1, far higher than he would like. “Right now,” he says, “I’m at half the number [of administrators] I need”.

Another server-stretched user, Desert Schools Federal Credit Union, expects to cut costs significantly by running VMware’s virtualisation software on a pair of two-way dual-core Opteron-based blade servers, which were recently installed, says Doug Baer, a systems engineer at the firm. Baer says the new systems are expected to handle the workload that is running on the five two-way, single-core Xeon machines they are replacing.

“I can hardly imagine buying another server,” he says, crediting the virtualisation software from VMware. “Once you build your virtual infrastructure, you are definitely slowing down your server proliferation.”

John Weeks, IT manager at Enumclaw Insurance Group, is planning to enhance his virtualised environment by adding systems running dual-core Intel chips with Intel’s Virtualisation Technology (VT).

Enumclaw currently runs VMware on 40 Intel-based servers and Weeks believes running the software on systems incorporating VT will improve virtualisation performance significantly.

VT has been included in Intel’s Xeon MP chip, formerly code-named Paxville, since last year, but it had been disabled. Intel began allowing users to enable the technology earlier this month.

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Tags managementserverssprawl

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