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KMI Selects Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization to Ensure Fair Weather for its IT Environment
December 13, 2011
Customer: KMI (Royal Meteorological Institute)
"The leading benchmark results achieved with Red Hat’s Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) hypervisor technology illustrates the excellent efficiency of Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization solution." -- Emmanuel Strobbe, system engineer in the KMI’s IT department.
To optimize the use of IT resources, lower costs, minimize service downtime, and facilitate the operation of activities such as system administration, development testing, and the introduction of new applications
A physical-to-virtual server migration that included the replacement of HP-UX-based servers and a number of Microsoft Windows-based servers with virtual servers running Red Hat® Enterprise Linux® in a Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization environment
Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization for Servers supporting virtual servers running Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Microsoft Windows
Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization 2.2, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.5, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.0, Microsoft Windows
Cluster of four Dell PowerEdge R710 servers with EMC NX4 Storage
Lower infrastructure costs, faster testing of development, faster deployment of new applications and services for customers, rationalization and harmonization of the IT environment, optimization of physical and human resources
The aim of the Royal Meteorological Institute of Belgium is to provide information services (standard or customized) to a wide variety of different clients, ranging from private individuals and information services, to companies, research centres, and public services. In particular, these services include hydrometeorological and geophysical forecasting, extreme or exceptional weather warnings, and generally making available KMI’s technical knowledge in hydrometeorology, climatology, and geophysics. All of these services are subject to particularly strict standards. Accuracy, regularity, constant availability, and excellent responsiveness are all challenges that need to be met against a background of rapidly fluctuating environmental parameters.
Day-to-day operations at the Royal Meteorological Institute of Belgium require accuracy and responsiveness at all times. KMI staff depend on instruments that consistently perform properly so they can produce analyses, diagnoses, and forecasts successfully.
A proponent of open source computing for several years, KMI's IT department opened its doors to Red Hat back in 2005. Today, open source solutions have largely replaced Microsoft Windows software. In 2009, the department turned to Red Hat for the second time to handle the virtualization of the Institute’s systems and applications intended both for internal users (mainly office software) and for KMI’s clients and partners (weather forecasts and exchanges of meteorological data). The aim was to optimize the use of resources and to facilitate the operation of activities such as system administration, development testing, migration, and introduction of new applications.
It is vital to KMI’s IT department that its computing environment ensures availability and strong performance. One of the most critical applications is the FTP server that is responsible for handling large transfers of meteorological data between weather bureaus worldwide via the RMDCN Network (Regional Meteorological Data Communications Network) of the Worldwide Meteorological Organization, which must be available 24/7.
Numerous applications have to be available at all times in order to provide recipients (internal users or external clients) with the information they need in a timely manner. As a result, strict SLAs have been signed with a number of public services and businesses. “If necessary, some clients can do without a particular forecast (the KMI issues a fresh forecast every six hours), but for others, a delay of even half an hour begins to create serious problems,” said Emmanuel Strobbe, system engineer, IT, KMI. “Our clients that focus on wind forecasts are particularly demanding in terms of response times.”
With time, the number of servers at KMI grew to such an extent that managing them efficiently became extremely difficult. “While services intended for external clients are based on relatively large servers, services for internal users are carried out on a series of smaller machines, mainly Dell x86 bi-processors,” explains Strobbe. “Over time, they have the unfortunate tendency to proliferate as new services or applications are added. The principle was to dedicate a server to each application to make management easier and avoid problems with one server interfering with other applications. But this was creating quite a few problems and negative effects: significant occupation of floor space, excessive cabling, and all sorts of waste from under-utlized systems. For example, the Windows domain server isn’t resource-intensive, but the team responsible for managing it prefers to keep it isolated, because losing that particular system would place all of the other servers in danger. The system is also far too powerful in relation to requirements. Therefore in 2009, we decided to switch to virtualization in order to optimize resources and facilitate management by cutting back on the overall number of machines.”
At the time, a number of solutions were examined, including Xen, VMware and Red Hat. However, it wasn’t long before KMI’s IT department made the strategic decision to partner with Red Hat.
“We use a lot of open source technology, especially provided by Red Hat, for the production side,” explains Strobbe. “Red Hat Enterprise Linux, with its reputation for quality and reliability, had gradually been introduced since 2005 for all our needs and also for those solutions that don’t require HP-UX.”
“We were focused more on x86 servers in a Linux environment, which were far less expensive solutions such as PA-RISC or Itanium,” said Strobbe. “Our positive experience with Red Hat and the power of its open source software were the determining factors in our decision to virtualize using Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization. The VMware solution also turned out to be much more expensive, and the leading benchmark results achieved with Red Hat’s Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) hypervisor technology illustrate the excellent efficiency of Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization solution."
Today, the Linux environment mostly runs on Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.5. For its virtual machines, KMI has begun deploying Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 and relies on Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization for its KVM hypervisor and for its advanced virtualization management capabilities.
KMI’s IT department uses Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Manager for the creation and migration of virtual machines, console access, and the overall supervision of resource consumption. This enterprise management tool has a graphical user interface that is very intuitive and easy to use. The system administrators can easily monitor the Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization clusters and configure high availability and workload balancing policies so the work is balanced across all the hypervisor hosts in the cluster. The maintenance manager feature is particularly useful in performing server updates without impacting the application workloads. The result of this capability has been the minimization of the administration work necessary to support the virtualization cluster and an increase in productivity by the system administration staff.
The IT team is also looking forward to the new user access capabilities that the next version of Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization will have to offer. The new power user portal will provide users with the appropriate permissions and the capability to perform tasks that were previously available only to the system administrators. “This will be particularly important for convincing other departments with their own IT hardware to move towards virtual machines,” said Strobbe. “The argument is that we will be able to delegate certain administration functions to them while retaining physical control over the systems. The new power user portal will allow us to accomplish this.”
KMI’s move toward a more virtualized infrastructure is rolling out gradually and is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2012. The first users (about 40) to benefit from the migration were the members of the IT team. This team wanted to ensure there is a base of skills able to support all users and a few “power users,” such as the director and secretaries, who switched from Exchange to Zimbra. However, a few small pockets of Windows will remain. These include a Windows login server that enables Linux users to access applications in Windows, business applications used by certain departments that report to management (accounting in particular), a Windows domain server with Active Directory, and an anti-virus server for Windows updates.
For KMI, the virtualization of servers has made it possible to significantly rationalize the number of servers utilized in the data centres. Previously, the applications were spread across approximately 20 servers (nine Windows 2003 servers and 10 Red Hat Enterprise Linux servers) and now, the majority of these workloads have been virtualized and transferred to Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization 2.2 deployed on four Dell PowerEdge R700 servers running. In total, 20-25 virtual servers have been created, and KMI’s virtual servers are a mix of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, other Linux distributions, and Microsoft Windows Server 2008.
Overall, virtualization will touch a wide range of functions and internal services at KMI, including DNS servers, DHCP, webmail, an FTP production server for exchanges with IRM clients, and the main server for the Zimbra collaborative suite, which handles e-mail, calendars, and contact management. Some critical applications that require a dedicated calculation capability, such as intensive scientific calculations, will not be virtualized.
The requirement to restrict any interruptions to service to a minimum was a determining factor in opting for virtualization, which guarantees KMI minimal system downtime, whatever the circumstances. The high availability feature of Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Manager that provides multilevel priority intelligent fail-over has been the key functionality in helping KMI meet these strict service availability requirements.
Virtualization also enables greater flexibility and speed for adaptations to infrastructure or test operations. “We can now create a machine quickly without waiting for a physical server to become available. Previously, we had to find space on an existing server—a process we tended to avoid in order to maintain the right balance. Virtualization enables us to save two or three months on a project,” explains Strobbe
Of the virtual machines created to date, five are dedicated to the development of tests enabling KMI to test and update applications more easily, such as a centralized management of the IT hardware via Puppet and a shared office environment based on LTSP (Linux Terminal Server Project).
KMI was also able to significantly improve the performance of its UNIX (HP-UX) cluster (consisting of two four-processor and one two-processor PA-RISC server) that hosts the production applications dedicated to the generation of weather forecasting services. From this cluster, KMI was able to offload the critical data transfers between national services and data format conversions to virtual servers running on Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization.
"Previously, we had to halt the applications, disable the SAN disks, transfer them into another machine, and restart the applications. Virtualization allows us to perform the migration in the same environment. Previously, a successful switch was difficult to achieve on a cluster since we had to conduct switching tests that can take over an hour. With virtualization, we can do the test in five minutes,” said Strobbe.
KMI's virtualization project will continue into the future. “We also intend to migrate our intranet to a virtual machine,” said Strobbe. “The website could also go down the same road. This will happen if we decide to replace the Apache server, which does not lend itself to virtualization, with a web server offering better performance guarantees."
The opportunity analysis for virtualization is still underway,” said Strobbe. "And the roadmap for Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization promises interesting new capabilities, and we look forward to leveraging this functionality as part of our subscription and ongoing partnership with Red Hat around virtualization,” said Strobbe.