Specsavers Expands Virtualization Deployments with Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization

May 18, 2011

With Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization, Specsavers accelerated the development, testing, and deployment of the applications used in its core development house in the UK, while containing and minimizing IT costs.

Customer: Specsavers

Industry: Healthcare
Geography: EMEA
Country: United Kingdom


Business Challenge:

To accelerate the development, testing, and deployment of the applications used in Specsavers’ core development house in the UK, while containing and minimizing IT costs.

Solution:

Use Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization to virtualize the test systems environments for Specsavers’ application development, quality assurance, and support processes

Software:

Red Hat® Enterprise Virtualization for Servers; Red Hat Enterprise Linux®; Red Hat Network Satellite

Hardware:

20 Fujitsu (2&4 socket) x86_64 BX blade and RX rack servers; NetApp and Fujitsu range storage in the UK; EMC and Fujitsu range storage in Guernsey and the Nordic region

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Background:

Specsavers Optical Group, the world’s largest privately owned chain of opticians, was founded in 1984 by husband-and-wife team Doug and Mary Perkins. Specsavers reached the key milestone of 100 stores in 1988 and expanded its business to one thousand stores by 2008.

Business Challenge:

As for any company operating in a competitive marketplace, Specsavers has to manage its IT environment very closely to contain its costs, both in terms of initial procurement and long-term total cost of ownership (TCO).

Specsavers is an enthusiastic proponent of open source software and has been a Red Hat customer for more than eight years. Over time, the company’s IT infrastructure, initially run on Sun Solaris, was migrated to a standardized Red Hat environment, with every store running Red Hat Enterprise Linux-based servers. In recent years, the company has been making the transition to a virtualized environment based on integrated Red Hat Enterprise Linux virtualization technology. It first began utilizing virtualization in 2008 for its UK infrastructure and has since expanded its virtualization deployments to include the Nordic region.

Dan Bateman, infrastructure coordinator within the Specsavers UK IT Department, said, “We saw great benefits from our use of Red Hat virtualization in Red Hat Enterprise Linux but needed better management capabilities for our virtualized systems. When we saw a demonstration of Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization and road-tested an evaluation version, we realised that this solution was just what we needed to expand our virtualization deployments and manage our large infrastructure. We were keen to start using it as soon as possible.”

More recently, the Specsavers Guernsey office began its virtualization journey with Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.4 and its kernel-based virtual machine (KVM) hypervisor, a full open source virtualization solution.

Solution:

By the summer of 2010, Specsavers decided to expand its partnership with Red Hat by deploying Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization in the UK. A prime goal was to reduce costs through server consolidation by virtualizing the development, testing, and support systems for the applications used in Specsavers’ core optometry business.

The company installed Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization software on Fujitsu RX (rack) and BX (blade) servers with NetApp and Fujitsu storage systems. The installation consists of 20 two- and four-socket servers and supports more than 100 virtual machines primarily running Red Hat Enterprise Linux and some Window Server 2008 and 2003 guest operating systems. Workloads include Specsavers’ custom developed core applications, DB servers running MySQL, and Oracle Database and Apache web servers.

The Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization manager functionality being used at Specsavers includes live migration, systems scheduler, power saver, maintenance manager, image manager, and OVF import/export.

The UK Specsavers IT team had the in-house resources to manage the deployment of Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization in the UK. Members of the IT department also undertook Red Hat training in Red Hat’s London and Farnborough offices to gain certifications in the use, administration, and management of the virtualized environment.

Benefits:

Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization offered Specsavers the management functionality it needed and delivered excellent total cost of ownership (TCO) value. With its familiarity with Red Hat Enterprise Linux and the integrated KVM hypervisor, the Specsavers team would be able to make a smooth transition to the Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization portfolio.

The advantages realized in Specsavers’ application testing process as a result of Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization have had considerable positive impact. The various environments can be replicated without having access to physical systems, which would typically consume large amounts of space. In addition, faster resource allocation is another significant benefit. The long lead times and costs previously required to bring new physical resources on-stream is being eliminated, as there is no longer a need to purchase and install equipment. “The speed at which resources can be allocated makes a real impact on the business and our bottom line,” said Bateman.

“Today, we can quickly create Microsoft Windows images, whereas inserting a DVD and installing the software used to take up to an hour. With Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization, we can have a Windows build available in a matter of minutes. This accelerates the entire testing and development process by helping to avoid bottlenecks, so applications become available more quickly for development and testing,” said Bateman.

The original plan for utilizing virtualization was to consolidate the company’s server estate, as machines were migrated to Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization from legacy virtualization implementations and older hardware due for decommissioning. “Instead of just mothballing redundant servers, where they still have some useful life left in them, these servers are repurposed within the business,” said Bateman. “However, over the long term, we do envision moving to a leaner IT infrastructure overall.

"Another goal for the virtualization initiative is to be able to provide resources for off-shore development work performed in India. Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization will give us the ability to quickly allocate standardised Red Hat desktop builds to developers in India, within an environment that we can control from the UK,” said Bateman.

The drive to expand virtualization implementation at Specsavers is still a work in progress. Even though the team has accumulated substantial experience in virtualization, the support provided by Red Hat is valued. Bateman said, “Our Red Hat Technical Account Manager provides a channel for our technical queries. A typical issue might be how to best manage and organise storage. Red Hat has always proved very responsive and helpful. While we’re quite self-sufficient, it’s always reassuring to know that we can call on Red Hat for expert advice.”

Bateman continues, “We’re pleased to see that Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization continues to receive investment from Red Hat and is being developed to provide user organisations like our own with new features and functionality that we can utilize to make sure we are a high-performing business for the clients we serve.”

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