By Larry Dignan  |  Posted 2005-02-01 Email Print this article Print

With 'virtual' infrastructure, will it really be possible to automate your technology operations? And manage them remotely? Not yet. But plan on it.


  • Take inventory

  • Consolidate stray servers

  • Settle on standard set of applications

    ACCORDING TO Eric Kuzmack, information-technology architect for media company Gannett, his first mission is to cram as many stray applications as possible on as few servers as he can. While consolidating, simplifying and centralizing aren't glamorous, they're a necessary first step to operating a technology department by remote control.

    In fact, the days of one server per application are disappearing. Currently, it's possible to run anywhere from five to 10 applications on a single server, according to Kuzmack. Using software from VMware, Opsware and other vendors, multiple servers in multiple locations each running multiple applications can be managed at one central spot. Need a test server? Click a mouse. Need some extra computing to process an end-of-month batch of financial statements? Click.

    Here's how the virtual servers work. One server is set up so that it can run applications designed to run on either of two operating systems, such as Microsoft Windows or Sun Solaris. That way, the work of two or more separate servers can be combined. If one server dedicated to running an accounts-payable application on one operating system was running at 20% of capacity, and another for customer service software using the other operating system was also working at 20% of capacity, the two could be combined, leaving a wholly free server—and 60% more capacity on the occupied server.

    Gannett's first target, one chosen by numerous companies, was its inventory of 100-plus servers at its headquarters. For Gannett, the plan is to simplify and consolidate its infrastructure.

    Gannett wouldn't disclose exact savings, but Kuzmack says the company plans to pare its server inventory—and make most of its applications virtual within about 18 months.

    Such simplification pays off. Exhibit A: Gannett used to add switches and take out servers at night, to avoid downtime. Now when it upgrades or simplifies, it uses VMware during the day. When physically taking out servers, Kuzmack can simply toggle operations to work on virtual servers that remain in place. He follows a similar procedure with switches: Work can be taken away from the servers to which they will be attached. When done, the servers are simply flipped back on. No night work. No overtime. No disruptions.

    So, why don't all of Gannett's applications run on shared servers? Some applications hog memory or disk space and still demand their own servers.

    Gannett's data warehouse isn't a good candidate for virtualization since it hogs memory and can't share computing power. So, Kuzmack looks for applications that are compact and have few users. Virtualized so far have been Internet domain name servers, internal Web applications, and programs specific to certain organizations, such as custom software used by the USA Today classified advertising department.

    Trial and error is often required for finding programs that can operate comfortably on servers with others. For instance, Bob Armstrong, director of technical services at hospitality provider Delaware North Companies, found that the Citrix Systems applications he used to manage Microsoft Office as well as catering and hotel management systems from a central spot weren't a fit. They would need blade servers with four processors to deliver adequate performance, under VMware.

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    Business Editor
    Larry formerly served as the East Coast news editor and Finance Editor at CNET News.com. Prior to that, he was editor of Ziff Davis Inter@ctive Investor, which was, according to Barron's, a Top-10 financial site in the late 1990s. Larry has covered the technology and financial services industry since 1995, publishing articles in WallStreetWeek.com, Inter@ctive Week, The New York Times, and Financial Planning magazine. He's a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.

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