Coleman Travels Lighter

By Anne Chen  |  Posted 2003-07-14

Coleman Travels Lighter

After years of helping consumers pack more efficiently for their camping trips, The Coleman Company Inc. decided to do some packing of its own—by consolidating using virtual machines in its data center. The move allowed Shawn Kaiser, network engineer at Coleman, to reduce his data center footprint from approximately 40 servers to two large, eight-way machines in February. This not only lowered the management costs of the data center but also decreased the overall total cost of ownership, Kaiser said.

Case file

  • Company The Coleman Company Inc.

  • Location Wichita, Kan.

  • Challenge Coleman needed to manage its growing deployments of virtual servers from multiple departments while allowing departments to control their applications

  • Solution Deploy Leostream Virtual Machine Controller for VMwares ESX to regulate user access while managing all servers from a central location

  • Tools Leostream VMC; VMwares VMware ESX Server; Windows Server 2003 and Windows NT 4.0; Red Hats Red Hat Linux; IBMs x440 servers

  • Whats next Consolidation of disaster recovery site

    Source: eWEEK reporting

  • "Weve had rapid growth and needed a way to consolidate our servers," said Kaiser, in Wichita, Kan. "By centralizing servers from multiple departments, weve not only reduced the complexity but are able to expand quickly to meet our needs."

    Enterprises have been moving toward server consolidation for some time. A survey of IT managers released earlier this year by Gartner Inc., a research company based in Stamford, Conn., found that 69 percent of enterprises moved to consolidate their servers in 2001 (the last year for which figures are available), up from 36 percent in 1998. Gartner analysts predicted that IT managers will continue to consolidate servers in an effort to manage systems better while lowering costs.

    Coleman, one of the worlds largest manufacturers of camping, backpacking and outdoor gear, began deploying VMware Inc.s ESX Server on two eight-way IBM x440 servers in February. Deploying ESX allowed Kaiser to divide his large multiprocessor IBM servers into many virtual machines running multiple copies of Windows and Red Hat Inc.s Red Hat Linux operating systems.

    Using ESX, Coleman was able to replace 40 rack-mountable servers with the two IBM servers. Today, the company has virtual machines for production and eight more for development purposes on the IBM servers. The company is also about to deploy 14 more virtual machines that will go into production this summer.

    Kaiser is running the virtual machines on everything from a version of Red Hat Linux to Windows Server 2003. All mission-critical applications, including accounting, e-mail, Web servers and customer relationship management, run on virtual machines created using the virtual machine software. For example, more than four rack-mountable servers that were used to power a business process management application from Hyperion Solutions Corp. have been replaced by virtual machines running on an IBM x440.

    "We went from many physical boxes in several racks to two IBM servers in what Id call a rapid deployment consolidation," Kaiser said. "Without virtual machines, it would take months to roll out something like a Hyperion application requiring five servers, which require ordering, billing, maintenance and setup."

    Control, Security Issues

    Control, Security Issues

    Kaiser first tried ESXs control manager, but he said he found that the product was difficult to use and didnt provide the security features he was looking for. Because multiple administrators need to access the virtual machines, Kaiser wanted to create a complex security scheme that would give him centralized control. At the same time, he wanted to prevent users from creating their own virtual machines—which they could do using the ESX control manager.

    Although Kaiser tried using Symantec Corp.s PCAnywhere for remote management of his virtual machines, the softwares inability to run on Linux meant that administrators using that operating system had no common way to access all their virtual machines.

    "As great and mighty and powerful as ESX is, the console lacks in terms of security, and its very difficult to use," Kaiser said. "We toyed with it, and it wasnt consistent, which is why we needed to find another way to get fine-grain management and lock down the ESX console."

    Kaiser decided to deploy Leostream Corp.s Leostream VMC (Virtual Machine Controller) 1.2 to manage his virtual machines in a centralized manner.

    Before Coleman installed Leostream VMC, server administrators had to go to several Web-based consoles to access virtual machines on ESX. Using Leostream VMC, administrators can log on to a portal to launch a remote session to manage their virtual machines. Leostream VMC gives users full control of their machines, including the power button to turn their own machines off. Kaiser retains control of the virtual machines, and users see only what he permits.

    "You have to go through the struggle of trying to secure ESX before you can appreciate the benefits of Leostream," Kaiser said. "ESX is a great product, but Leostream fills in a lot of the gaps and really seals the deal."

    The success of his consolidation project now has Kaiser exploring other IT trails. Kaiser said hes considering the use of ESX and VMC in his disaster recovery site on two additional IBM eight-way x440 servers.

    Although Coleman is using only a few features in the Leostream product, Kaiser said he is looking into its other capabilities, including cloning servers, storage area network integration and the idea of failing over virtual machines between servers.

    He has also asked Leostream to add LDAP support so that he can force session timeouts for additional security.

    "The problem with server consolidation is that you reduce costs but increase complexity to some degree, which is exactly what youre trying to avoid," Kaiser said. "Using a virtual machine controller has really allowed us to realize the benefits of ESX."

    eWEEK Labs Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at

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