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By Scott Ferguson  |  Posted 2007-07-02 Print this article Print

All those lofty predictions meant little in 2004, when Dominos IT team took its first tentative steps toward a virtualized data center—specifically, when administrators first tried to take critical applications off older Compaq servers. In the past 10 years, said McCracken, who was present during the IT departments first wave of virtualization, Dominos has undergone a massive reordering of a once- nearly-homogeneous data center that relied primarily on Compaq servers. "In our old computer room, we had a lot of old Compaq stuff, and when we moved out of there, we changed to Dell for a lot of our infrastructure," McCracken said. "There was just a lot of phasing out of the older Compaq equipment."
Today, the companys main data center in Ann Arbor has more of a heterogeneous look, with a combination of IBM and Dell servers—typically using either dual- or quad-core processors and supporting between 8GB and 16GB of RAM—running a variety of operating systems including AIX, Windows 2000 and 2003, and Novells SUSE Linux.
Computing at the companys headquarters is standardized on Dell PCs. Part of the obstacle to bringing virtualization into the data center, Shinabarger said, was that there were no other companies of comparable size that his team could point to as an example of how the technology could work on high-density, x86 systems. "There was a concern that you had many servers on one physical box, and if that were to go down, what were we going to do," he said. "At that point, we didnt have a SAN [storage area network], so it was just all those things. It was a lot of fear of the unknown." Layer 7 brings security to the virtual world. Click here to read more. When the Dominos IT department began its first virtualization tests in October 2004, there were fewer virtualization vendors than there are now. However, VMware did offer to help, and developers at Dominos were already using VMware workstation software. "We had seen it. It seemed like it would work, and there were really not a lot of vendors in this space," Shinabarger said. Bogomil Balkansky, director of product marketing for VMware, in Palo Alto, Calif., said the situation at Dominos reflected what many other companies were looking for with virtualization—namely, consolidation. From there, other opportunities, such as cost savings and disaster recovery, presented themselves. "Its really interesting in this case because this was a customer that had consolidation in mind, and they found a tremendous opportunity that virtualization technology can open up," Balkansky said, adding that virtualization now is about more than simply server consolidation. "Theres a lot more focus on the speed of provisioning that virtualization can provide as well as proving high availability." The problem that Dominos and other companies ran into just a few years ago was convincing other executives not only that this technology could work but also that it could provide additional benefits, Balkansky said. "You dont know whats yours, and you cant put your finger on what is in your box," said Balkansky, adding that many executives want to be able to see and touch what the server does, something thats impossible with virtual environments. "Once you overcome this, there is a lot less objection, and I think that is part of the reason why virtualization has gone mainstream in just the last few years. People are much more comfortable with this, and they now know what they are getting out of a box." The first project Shinabarger received approval for was an attempt to move one mission-critical application—a universal accounts receivable application—from a failing Compaq server to a newer Dell PowerEdge server with about 8GB of RAM, coupled with VMware software. "We did a [physical-to-virtual migration] as a test, and it was successful, and it was right from the frying pan into the fire," Shinabarger said. "I dont want to say it was flawless. It took some work to get it going. It was all pretty new at the time, but we did get it going in the end. It did get us out of the fire, and at that point, you did have some mid- and upper-level management buy-in." Next Page: Getting VMware to work with SAN.


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