Disaster-proof virtualisation on a dime: how I did it

Most companies virtualize servers to save money, save space and save time for the business. HR outsourcing firm The Sullivan Group had another motivator: hurricanes. Here's their thrifty, successful formula for virtualization, using Citrix and Marathon Technologies products.

Low-Cost Disaster Proofing

Currently the company is running on four servers-about 10 VMs on each physical host except the one supporting virtual desktops, which runs 35. There are four or five physical machines left to convert to VMs, but the system is stable under testing for the Web interface Jones and Simpson are working on that will give "a couple of thousand" users at client companies direct access to the applications Sullivan supports.

The project cost between $55,000 and $60,000 for the initial Citrix and Marathon licenses and physical hosts, Jones says. Going up to four servers to support the CRM software and remote desktops, and to support Web access for external users, cost another $30,000 or so, Jones says. The CRM solution cost about $300,000.

Jones would also have liked to install Xen Desktop Server, which supplies the virtual desktop infrastructure that would have made it far more efficient to run 25 or 30 virtual desktops out of the tiny server closet that Sullivan uses as a data center.

The budget wouldn't allow, however, so he's running instances of Windows XP as virtual machines on one of the Xen servers, though he plans to upgrade eventually.

"That would be a sticking point, but virtual desktop migrations almost always come in stages," according to Bob O'Donnell, an analyst specializing in client and display technologies for IDC. "It would be ideal to be able to make the leap to VDI all at once, but the practical realities of finance and maintaining operations while you're migrating often preclude that."

Mixing Multiple Technologies

In fact, though the mix of Linux and Microsoft, non-VDI desktop infrastructure and minimum-cost approach may have led Sullivan Group to some odd technical choices, its situation and decisions seem unusual only because most virtualization projects that are publicized tend to be more homogeneous than normal, according to Chris Wolf, infrastructure analyst at The Burton Group.

"Smaller companies are where VARs like to get creative. Some [small and medium-sized enterprise] customers are using core VMware virtualization, but management from VizionCore or another ISV that caters to SMEs. Some VARs are taking out a package of VMware with DoubleTake, or Windows apps replicated to virtualized environments in a co-location facility," Wolf says. "There's a lot more variety in the real world than you'd think."

Sullivan's approach is almost by the book, in fact, if you look at it as a way for a small company to get high availability without paying high prices to either a traditional HA company or VMware, according to Mark Bowker, infrastructure analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group.

Tags disaster recoveryvirtualisation

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