Colosseum Shrinks Datacenter, Expands Services with Virtualization-Powered Cloud from Red Hat

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May 30, 2012

By moving to a cloud architecture based on Red Hat, Colosseum was able to pack more capacity and compute power into its existing datacenter, and simultaneously begin offering customers a new line of customized cloud-based and hybrid cloud with co-location services.

Customer: Colosseum Online

"Red Hat was just as committed to making sure everything worked as we were. And due to both the technical excellence of the Red Hat products and the superb support, we’ve even been able to exceed our SLA goals.” -Jean Crescenzi, CTO, Colosseum Online

Geography: North America
Country: Canada


Business Challenge:

With its rapidly expanding co-location business, Colosseum was looking at expanding its datacenter.

Software:

Red Hat Enterprise Linux

Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization for Servers

Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization for Desktops

Hardware:

Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) B-Series blade servers, Nexus switches, and NetApp storage appliances

Benefits:

By moving to a cloud architecture based on Red Hat® Enterprise Virtualization and Red Hat Enterprise Linux®, Colosseum was able to pack more capacity and compute power into its existing datacenter, and simultaneously begin offering customers a new line of customized cloud-based and hybrid cloud with co-location services.

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Background:

Established in 1994, Colosseum Online is a multifaceted company that offers a broad range of Internet solutions to businesses and residences across Canada. Initially offering dial-up Internet services to residents of the city of Vaughan and surrounding areas, the company quickly started expanding its offerings to hosting, co-location, dedicated Internet services, and network services and solutions. By 1997, Colosseum Online had evolved into a comprehensive Internet service provider (ISP), supplying services to residents and businesses throughout Canada and was offering co-location services to customers globally. Since 2011, Colosseum has become a leading provider of cloud services—including Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS)—throughout Canada, offering solutions tailored to customers’unique needs.

Business Challenge:

Help wanted: more datacenter space, more solutions to offer customers

In 2009, Colosseum Online faced dual challenges. The first one was internal: With limited space and power in its Toronto, Ontario, datacenter facility, Colosseum was fast exceeding its ability to keep pace with the needs of its rapidly expanding customer base. Chief Technology Officer Jean Crescenzi estimated that the company would need a minimum of 20,000 square feet more space within the year, not to mention greatly expanded power and cooling capabilities, all of which increase the cost of the business and reduce margin.

Colosseum’s second challenge was a customer-facing one. Based on its existing technology and business models, Colosseum’s traditional co-location and hosting customers bought their own hardware and software, plugged them into the Colosseum network in the Colosseum datacenter, and managed the systems themselves--or opted for Colosseum’s expert technical support and solutions services. But this approach not only forced customers to make large capital start-up investments, but also meant that the provisioning of this equipment and related software could be very slow.

Frequently there were weeks of delay on-boarding Colosseum customers. After finally getting online, customers would still have the on-going expense of managing the systems and dealing with any failures and the accompanying business risk of disruption from downtime. As Colosseum’s business was already rapidly transforming into one that provided companies with more comprehensive systems solutions, it wanted to help its customers minimize the time spent deploying and managing their infrastructures, in addition to offering co-location, cloud, and network services.

Colosseum realized it had two choices for meeting its first challenge of limited space and power: either invest in expanding into a larger datacenter facility, or move to a cloud services model. However, building a new datacenter wouldn’t begin to address its second, and equally as important, customer-facing challenge of quickly and cost-effectively meeting provisioning and ongoing management needs. To tackle both issues, the best solution was moving to an architecture built specifically for cloud services.

The virtualization market is a crowded one, with multiple vendors claiming to offer the bestroadmap to the cloud. Colosseum had to choose carefully, as it would not only be using the hypervisor selected as the basis for its own infrastructure, but also as the foundation for a broad range of cloud services it would offer its customer base. Crescenzi knew from the very beginning he had to proceed with caution.

Solution:

Red Hat exceeds all expectations in proof-of-concept testing

Previously, Colosseum Online’s infrastructure had been based on HP hardware, Cisco networking devices, and FreeBSD operating systems. Moving to a virtualized cloud environment would require a complete revamping of this architecture. Crescenzi initiated a rigorous evaluation and called in all major virtualization vendors to provide proof of concepts (POCs) to demonstrate that their products could support Colosseum’s existing and future needs. “When the time came to make the final decision, Red Hat was the clear winner,” said Crescenzi. “We needed a hypervisor that has rock-solid stability that could deliver the compute power our customers required."

Red Hat actually outperformed our expectations on all of the tests.” Given the excellence of the Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization POC, the Colosseum team also made the strategic decision to switch the operating system from FreeBSD, a free UNIX-like operating system descended from AT&T UNIX via BSD UNIX, to Red Hat Enterprise Linux. First and foremost, Colosseum is using Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization for Servers and Red Hat Enterprise Linux with the kernel-based virtual machine (KVM) hypervisor, not only for its core infrastructure (DNS servers, mail servers, Enkompass servers, cPanel servers, web servers, and more), but also for its cloud platform that offers IaaS and other cloud services to customers. Additionally, Colosseum has also deployed Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization for Desktops as its foundation to provide DaaS to customers. Leveraging the open source SPICE remote rendering protocol, Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization for Desktops delivers an incredible user experience to Colosseum’s VDI customers.

“We sell customers resources like processor cores, memory, and disk drive space,” said Crescenzi . “But we’re taking it to an extra level that no one else is doing.” By setting up load balancers and firewalls as virtual machines as well as multiple virtual local area networks (VLANs) under Red Hat Enterprise Linux with KVM, Colosseum can give customers a virtual infrastructure without physical machines, physical switches, physical firewalls, and physical load balancers. The advantage to customers: rapid-fire provisioning of new or additional resources, as well as an easy way to manage all the virtual machines. Customers can start with a basic package consisting of one processing core, 1 GB of RAM, and 25 GB of storage space, with the option to expand it dynamically. Colosseum has also worked closely with OnApp, a leader in next-generation cloud management software, to provide a custom cloud portal to allow customers to easily make system resource changes and manage their virtual machines at their convenience.

“To manage our core environment and the IaaS environments for specific customers, we’re using all of the functionality of Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Manager, including its live migration, high availability, templating, workload balancing, and power saver features,” said Crescenzi.

“With one click of the mouse, the ability to migrate off all workloads and bring a specific hypervisor host offline for planned software or hardware updates is a feature that significantly simplifies cluster maintenance for us. The robustness and ease of management Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Manager provides impressed the Colosseum team.”

For its storage needs, Colosseum chose NetApp FAS 3210s and FAS 3270s to support 200 TBs+ of shared storage. To meet its server needs, Colosseum has fully committed to Cisco’s UCS platform by purchasing Cisco B-Series blade servers, consisting of two-socket systems. Supported workloads include a variety of systems that are typically found in a datacenter: application servers, database servers (MySQL and Microsoft SQL), mail servers, infrastructure servers, DNS servers, gaming applications, web servers, virtual load balancers, virtual firewalls, and more.

Additional reasons for choosing Red Hat included the company’s superb support, access to the open source code, and cost savings. “The simplified license model made it easy to map out costs and helped us to create an easy-to-understand business plan implementing Red Hat Enterprise Linux to replace FreeBSD and use Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization’s KVM hypervisor in our network,” said Crescenzi, who added that the transition to the new virtual environment was “very smooth.” “Since most of my team knew UNIX, the learning curve was seconds.”

A pleasant surprise was finding out about the Red Hat continuous update service, according to Crescenzi. “We were very excited, because we needed something to keep up with the erratas, bug fixes, and security patches,” he said. “Red Hat continuous update service allows us to manage all of our updates from a central location very easily."

Benefits:

Red Hat helps Colosseum grow its datacenter capacity and its business

Thanks to the cloud built with Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization and Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Colosseum remains in its original datacenter, but has increased its capacity by an order of magnitude, allowing it to grow unfettered by concerns about space or power. And to better serve its customers, Colosseum can offer a broad range of services that includes everything from basic Internet connectivity to providing an entire virtual private datacenter on its cloud platform. “We’re an ISP, so we can sell you the fiber to your office, and then we can actually connect you virtually from your desktop to our servers on our WAN,” said Crescenzi. “Now we can offer a full-service cloud-based datacenter that provides virtualized resources to customers that help them run every aspect of their businesses.”

Graduated to a Red Hat Certified Cloud Provider

In late 2011, Colosseum continued its commitment to Red Hat by becoming a Certified Cloud Provider. Red Hat’s CCP program requires rigorous testing and certifications to insure the quality of both product offerings and support that it offers its customers. Colosseum joins the ranks of top cloud providers in offering cloud services built on Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization and in offering Red Hat Enterprise Linux in hourly or monthly increments to customers. As a Certified Cloud Provider, Colosseum works closely to support its customers, backed by award-winning Red Hat Global Support Services. The comprehensive support and training from Red Hat means that Colosseum was able to bring its brand-new cloud venture online in a fraction of the time budgeted.

The combination of Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization also means that provisioning new machines can be done significantly faster. What formerly took four to five hours has been reduced to just 15 minutes. Colosseum engineers can actually build an entire network, a firewall, a load balancer, two database servers, and two web servers in less than an hour—a task that would have previously taken several days.

“This enables both Colosseum and our clients to remain flexible in a market where every minute matters,” said Crescenzi. Red Hat products have also decreased Colosseum’s client acquisition cost by giving its sales team the ability to create demo machines so clients can see firsthand how fast and easy creating and configuring new machines in the cloud can be. Red Hat has been behind Colosseum the whole journey. “Since we started planning and designing our cloud services, we’ve focused on delivering a 99.999 percent uptime guarantee,” said Crescenzi. “Red Hat was just as committed to making sure everything worked as we were. And due to both the technical excellence of the Red Hat products and the superb support, we’ve even been able to exceed our SLA goals.”

Because of recent laws being passed in the United States of America, Colosseum is seeing a huge spike in interest in its cloud services. Canadian companies are coming back to Canada to use cloud services that store Canadians’ personal information data on U.S. soil. Thus, Colosseum’s Red Hat-based cloud offering now looks very attractive to Canadian organizations of all sizes, including government agencies. “Thanks to Red Hat, we see nothing ahead of us but growth,” said Crescenzi.

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