Taking Virtualization Into the Material World

Over the last decade, virtualization has moved into the mainstream of the enterprise. The adoption rate for the technology now extends into the high 90 percent range for large enterprises. Yet putting the technology to work effectively remains a significant challenge for many organizations. “Optimizing a virtualized environment and getting the most out of the technology is extremely challenging,” said Matthew Skelley, senior network administrator and systems administrator for Admiral Metals.

The company, headquartered in Woburn, Mass., finishes and distributes milled metals and other items—about 8,000 in all—to buyers across the Northeast United States and beyond. The firm’s customers range from government agencies to large corporations such as GE. Not surprisingly, ERP, MRP, CRM and other enterprise systems are at the center of the business equation. Admiral Metals depends primarily on IBM iSeries systems, formerly known as AS-400s, for the bulk of its computing requirements, but it also relies on Windows-based hardware and systems for authentication, email and various custom applications.

In 2010, Admiral Metals turned to VMware to better manage its physical servers and storage. The project was initially designed to reduce overhead infrastructure, workloads, power consumption and the demands on IT staff, Skelley said.

“We started with a half dozen machines, but it soon became apparent that we were not getting the performance improvements we expected in a virtualized environment. For instance, a ShoreTel IP-based PBX phone system constantly ran into memory and CPU utilization issues while other applications devoured IOPS, often leading to sluggish performance. Making matters worse, the IT staff found that it had to reboot servers at least once a week within the virtual environment.”

Skelley and others in IT recognized that something had to change—especially with workloads increasing at annual double-digit rates and new servers and storage coming online regularly. So, in 2012, the company turned to Condusiv’s V-locity I/O reduction software to better optimize the virtual systems and gain greater insight through robust monitoring tools. After installing the system, workload capacity immediately spiked by upwards of 50 percent. Overall, this translated into a 150 percent improvement in throughput per hour and a more than 400 percent improvement in throughput for the ShoreTel phone system. Says Skelley: “We no longer have to worry about monitoring and tracking the taxation on the servers. The V-locity software handles the task automatically and transparently.”

The transition to the new software went off without any hitches and it has led to far greater flexibility, Skelley said. What’s more, in addition to dramatically improving IT and network performance, the system has helped Admiral Metals avoid the purchase of additional hardware, storage devices and DRAM that would otherwise be required to boost performance. In the end, this has produced a cost-savings of about 70 percent and eliminated the ongoing need to add servers and other systems as capacity increases. This most recently translated into a $48,000 savings in hardware.

“The technology has helped Admiral Metals use IT resources—and virtualization technology—far better. We have solved our previous I/O problems and benefited in many other ways.”

Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard writes about business, technology and other topics. His book, The Internet of Things (MIT Press) was released in the spring of 2015.

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