Richmond Goes Virtual

Virtualization has given the Virginia city a leg up on new possibilities

September 23, 2005

2 Min Read
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Virtualization may be a mystery to many organizations. (See Virtually Nowhere.) But at least one U.S. city is pleased with its initial foray into the technology. The IT team for the City of Richmond, Virginia says they've not only consolidated storage and servers with a SAN Volume Controller (SVC) from IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), but they've opened up future possibilities for streamlining IT.

"We're virtualizing everything. We've significantly increased storage utilization, from about 40 percent to about 80 percent," says Steve Forstner, IT manager for systems engineering for the city.

Richmond's network has two IBM SVC boxes (one for redundancy) placed between its 130-odd servers and its storage devices, which include a pair of Clariion CX300s and a CX400 array from EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC), as well as a DS4300 disk system and an ESS "Shark" Model 800 from IBM. The SVC virtualizes all server storage for regular processing, and the team uses it for snapshots and backup. Gradually, they're phasing out all servers with hard drives.

"This puts us in a position to look at things like blade servers, clustering, and SAN file systems," Forstner says.

His team looked for a virtualization device about a year ago, when they found some servers overloaded on the city's network, while others had storage to spare. "There was no easy way to allocate that unused storage," says Lyle Gleason, lead systems engineer.Besides IBM, the city's IT group tested a TagmaStore system from Hitachi Data Systems (HDS). They chose the SVC because it provided virtualization that wasn't linked to a specific vendor's switch.

"TagmaStore puts the virtualization in the switch. That would have locked us into Hitachi. From the standpoint of technology, there's a good case for having virtualization close to storage. From a business standpoint, the objective is not to have it part of the director and get locked in," Gleason says. The lock-in fears also kept Richmond from opting for SVC running on the MDS 9000 from (Nasdaq: CSCO), which is an alternative to running SVC on IBM's appliance platform.

At the time Richmond's decision was made, there weren't many other choices besides IBM and TagmaStore that made sense to the team. EMC wasn't ready with Invista, which an EMC spokesman says is still on track for general shipment this quarter. (See EMC Unveils Invista.)

Do Forstner and Gleason regret that they're committed to an IBM lease on SVC for five years? Not a bit. "We're happy," Forstner says. But he concedes there are more possibilities he could consider today. "If we looked it over again this year, it would be a different game."

For its part, IBM officials say an eighth release of SVC will debut before year's end. They won't comment on speculation that IBM may also be working on a virtualization appliance based on technology from Incipient Inc. (See Surf, Sand & Storage.)Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

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