How virtualization helped a small healthcare provider

Virtualization: Success Story

Like most IT directors, Jeffrey Shuron has a limited budget and staff to work with. In fact, he is the “staff.” So when a series of servers purchased nearly a decade ago to show their age started to wear down for Sports Physical Therapy of New York (Sports PT), a healthcare provider with 24 locations, Shuron scrambled to better understand how virtualization and server consolidation could help.

The problem: aging technology

Sports PT’s aging technology platform had become a liability, which meant longer server refresh cycles, fewer new technology deployments and a myriad of other issues. Not an uncommon problem, but still very much one that needed to be addressed.

“I had one crash and spent between 24 and 30 hours rebuilding it,” said Shuron. It was this event that led him to re-evaluate the availability of email, databases, user information and other business workloads within his organization.

The process: understanding virtualization

Shuron set out to gain a better understanding of virtualization and server consolidation, along with the potential benefits. He invested over a year of his valuable time in experimenting with Virtual Iron Software, Microsoft Hyper-V and VMware server virtualization software.

Eventually, VMware was ultimately selected as Sports PT’s preferred virtualization software because of its perceived maturity and rich feature set, including vMotion with high availability. Shuron also thoroughly evaluated the performance and behavior aspects of the principal applications that would become VMs.

The implementation

Just three Dell PowerEdge servers were needed to account for the computing headroom needs, and also to accommodate for multiple VMs on each physical host. After waiting for a server refresh cycle, Shuron tried multiple methods to migrate the physical workloads to the VMs.

The first method was live migration. Live migration occurs when the workload can be virtualized without disruption.

The second method used was cold cloning. Unfortunately, cold cloning can cause both the server and/or the application to be unavailable for hours. In this scenario, a server is taken out of service while the software is loaded before the workload is transferred from the physical to a virtual host.

The live migration method handled the move for file, print services and data-related applications flawlessly. However, the SQL server experienced issues after the migration.

“[With] live migration, after a day or two, the virtual instance would fail so I’d have to revert back to the physical server. I ended up doing a cold migration, and that went off without a hitch,” Shuron said.

Due to SQL issues, Shuron also decided to cold clone both the email and Active Directory servers from the onset. The Dell PowerEdge servers eventual hosted 12 VMs. The migration process, including configuration changes for all VMs, took about 36 total hours to complete.

To support the network demands of the 12 VMs hosted on the new Dell servers, Sports PT purchased a new switch — and also connected each of the servers to a Dell storage area network (SAN), which eliminated local storage needs.

“We use [the Dell SAN] for snapshots,” Shuron said. “And with high availability, it doesn’t matter what physical host fails. All the information is on the SAN.”

The future

Sports PT is looking to eventually expand the role of virtualization beyond server virtualization software, and Shuron is currently piloting a 10-desktop virtualization program. His goal is to centralize the desktops used in each of Sports PT’s locations.

Jeffrey Shuron is essentially a one-man IT department with a small budget. “If I can do it, with a little work, anyone can do it,” he said.

The takeaway: Virtualization can benefit businesses of all sizes

Virtualization, once better suited for large, well-equipped organizations, is now a practical and understandable technology that can be leveraged by organizations of all sizes.

Learn about some upcoming virtualization trends here at Tech Page One, and let us know if you have your own success stories!

Richard Nicholson

Richard Nicholson

Dell Contributor at Tech Page One
Richard Nicholson is Dell's enterprise marketing manager and giving manager for the UK. He is responsible for conveying the benefits of Dell's datacenter solutions and strategy including storage, converged infrastructure and Big Data solutions. He is an advocate of B2B social media and manages @DellUK’s twitter & YouTube channels and tweets for @DellInsideTrack.
Richard Nicholson
Richard Nicholson
Tags: Technology,Virtualization