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More Room in the Data Center

Giving a tour of the data center at Welch's headquarters in Concord, Scangas points to a mostly empty server rack as evidence of what VMware has accomplished for the company. "These racks used to be filled, but we've retired a lot of the older equipment with virtualization," Scangas says. Instead of replacing each of the old servers with a new one, Welch's has consolidated the applications that used to run on those old servers onto 10 Dell PowerEdge 6650 and 6600 servers running ESX Server. Each ESX Server runs 10 to 13 production applications, on average, or 15 to 18 for development and testing.

"Without VMware, we would not fit in the room right now," agrees Tom Barry, the data center's manager; the room is about 40 by 40 feet. Even with more compact computers such as blade servers, however, power and cooling requirements grow rapidly as more servers are added, he says: "I've been here six years, and we've gone from 35,000 watts to 120,000 watts; if it weren't for VMware we'd probably be at 240,000 watts." Like several of Welch's senior I.T. executives, he readily accepted the idea that virtualization would be an improvement because he had experience working with mainframe virtual machines at previous jobs.

Nelson Arcoraci, group manager for computer operations, said the only question he asked was, "Is it ready?" Once assured that VMware's software was production-quality, he was quick to give the go-ahead. "We have about 65% of our infrastructure running on it today," he says, and more software is likely to move onto virtual machines over time. "For 90% of applications, it's a good fit."

Arcoraci and Matusevich both say the ability to use VMware for disaster recovery was another major reason for pursuing the virtualization strategy. "Intel infrastructure can be very picky with regard to recovery," Arcoraci says, because when a server is restored from backup tapes onto another computer, the hardware configuration on that machine may not be what the software has been configured to expect. But if the software is running in a virtual environment, it can be restored onto another machine without any dependencies on the underlying hardware.

For backup purposes, the virtual server strategy also helps limit the number of servers that Welch's has reserved for emergency use at the IBM data center in Sterling Forest, N.Y. "Instead of asking IBM to have 100 servers for us, now it's just 10," Scangas says, which cuts the cost of backup service. Even some of the applications that normally run on separate servers could be consolidated onto virtual machines in an emergency, he adds.

Virtualization has helped Welch Foods sweeten its bottom line and boost efficiency—and, perhaps most important, kept its technicians off those coast-to-coast flights.

This article was originally published on 04-06-2006
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