VMware Workstation Tests Enbridge Apps

Case Study: Enbridge Energy Company uses VMware Workstation 5 to lower development costs.

IT managers at Enbridge Energy Company Inc. used to spend as much as 5 hours building and setting up a server to test one application. Now, using VMware Inc.s VMware Workstation 5 virtual machine software, the company has cut that time to as little as 5 minutes, according to Edward Baldwin, senior network engineer.

While many IT managers continue to leverage VMs to drive server consolidation, many others, such as Baldwin, are using the technology to lower development costs. In fact, the ability to have several computers running on one piece of hardware saves so much money, space and time that use of virtualization technology will triple from 2003 to 2008, predicts market research company Gartner Inc., of Stamford, Conn.

Enbridge Energy is a subsidiary of Enbridge Inc., of Calgary, Alberta. The parent company and subsidiaries operate more than 8,500 miles of natural-gas pipeline and move nearly 2 million barrels of crude oil a day.

At Enbridge Energys headquarters in Houston, employees use homegrown applications to manage pipeline operations. These applications, many of which are for gas pipeline control and gas accounting, run on disparate operating systems. Microsoft Corp.s Windows 2000 and Windows Server 2003 are used for the companys primary network infrastructure, while Red Hat Inc.s Fedora Core 3, Novell Inc.s SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 and Sun Microsystems Inc.s Solaris 10 x86 are used to run infrastructure utilities.

About 50 IT personnel support more than 2,200 users, so IT managers at Enbridge are constantly looking for efficiencies. They found that continually purchasing hardware to test upgrades, patches and applications in a nonproduction environment was getting expensive.

In 2003, Baldwin purchased and deployed 10 licenses of VMware Workstation 4.0, at $188 each, for the infrastructure group within his IT department. The VM software deployed on Windows enabled Enbridge developers to run guest operating systems inside a host operating system, essentially allowing IT managers to deploy multiple VMs—each with a different operating system—on one workstation to test different applications.

"Using VMware Workstation has made development a lot easier," Baldwin said. "For example, if a virtual machine crashes, I just set it back up and am ready to go, with barely any time wasted."

In April, Enbridge upgraded to VMware Workstation 5, which provides new tools for distributed computing, cloning and multiple snapshots.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read eWEEK Labs review of VMware Workstation 5.

Using VMware Workstation 5, Baldwin built a VLAN (virtual LAN) with VMs that recognize and communicate with one another, allowing him to test his applications without affecting his production network.

Although he has never run out of CPU horsepower, Baldwin said he has seen performance degrade when running VMware Workstation 5 with a limited amount of RAM. He therefore doubles the amount of RAM in his servers and workstation to get the best performance, he said.

"You can get by with the single 512MB or 1GB of RAM in a box," said Baldwin, "but if you want to run two or three virtual machines at a time, youll need the additional RAM to avoid a slowdown."

Baldwin said hed like to see future versions of VMware Workstation support multiprocessors. This would enable his team to take advantage of multithreading, a feature he said is handy in VMwares VMware ESX Server 2.51 enterprise server consolidation product. He deployed VMware ESX Server and VMware VirtualCenter virtual infrastructure management software as part of a server consolidation project that began at Enbridge earlier this year.

"Ive looked at other ways of reducing server space, but when youre consolidating in your data center, it makes sense to get rid of a lot of pizza boxes," he said.

Baldwin is building a new VMware ESX Server farm that will be used for external Web servers. He said the move will allow Enbridge to consolidate 60 external Web servers into one or two servers running VMs.

Server virtualization software has also allowed Baldwin to make better use of server equipment. "There are so many applications that dont take advantage of multiple processors, so if you put an eight-way processor up, and its only using one or two processors, youve spent a lot of overhead and havent gained anything," he said. "By using VMware ESX, we are getting a lot more processor efficiency with the virtualization."

Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at anne_chen@ziffdavis.com.

/zimages/1/28571.gifCheck out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis about productivity and business solutions.