The virtual virtualization case study: Pre-testing

In stage 2: Fergenschmeir's IT does some test runs to see if VMware can really do the job

Stage 2: Doing a reality check

Fergenschmeir’s infrastructure manager, Eric Brown, had a good idea of how server virtualization might help improve disaster recovery and utilization issues, and he had marching orders to get it done.

[ Start at the beginning of Fergenschmeir's server virtualization journey ]

But Eric was concerned that there was very little virtualization experience within his team. The intern, Mike Beyer, was by far the best resource Eric had, but Mike had never designed a new virtualization architecture from the ground up -- just peripherally administered one.

Eric also faced resistance from his staff. Eric’s server administrators, Ed Blum and Mary Edgerton, had used VMware Server and Microsoft Virtual Server before and weren’t impressed by their performance. Lead DBA Paul Marcos said he’d be unwilling to deploy a database server on a virtual platform because he had read that virtual disk I/O was terrible.

Eric and his CTO Brad Richter had already assured CEO Bob Tersitan that they’d have a proposal within a month, so, despite the obstacles, they went ahead. They started by reading everything they could find on how other companies had built their systems. Eric asked Mike to build a test platform using a trial version of VMware’s ESX platform, as that seemed to be a popular choice in the IT-oriented blogosphere.

Within a few days, Mike had an ESX server built with a few test VMs running on it. Right away, it was clear that virtualization platforms had different hardware requirements than normal servers did. The 4GB of RAM in the test server wasn’t enough to run more than three or four guest servers concurrently, and the network bandwidth afforded by the two onboard network interfaces might not be sufficient for more virtual servers.

But even with those limits, the test VMs they did deploy were stable and performed significantly better than Eric’s team had expected. Even the previously skeptical Paul was impressed with the disk throughput. He concluded that many of the workgroup applications might be good candidates for virtualization, even if he was still unsure about using VMs for their mission-critical database servers.

With this testing done, Brad and Eric were confident they could put a plan on Bob’s desk within a few weeks. Now they had to do the critical planning work.

The rest of the virtual virtualization case study
Introduction: The Fergenschmeir case study
Stage 1: Determining a rationale
Stage 3: Planning around capacity
Stage 4: Selecting the platforms
Stage 5: Deploying the virtualized servers
Stage 6: Learning from the experience

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