Symcor Recognizes Cost Savings and Efficiencies with Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization

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January 17, 2012

Customer: Symcor Inc.

Geography: North America
Country: Canada


Business Challenge:

To simplify and improve support by standardizing on a single Linux platform with enterprise-level support; to reduce datacenter costs and to increase the flexibility and agility of their IT service by deploying all possible workloads in the Symcor datacenter as virtual servers in order to approach a 100% virtualized environment

Migration Path:

Moving Linux and Sun Solaris-based applications running on both x86 and proprietary SPARC servers to Red Hat Enterprise Linux running on Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization-based virtual machines

Solution:

Running a combination of Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization and Red Hat Enterprise Linux, managed by Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Manager and with life cycle provisioning by Red Hat Network Satellite

Software:

Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization, Red Hat Network Satellite
 

Hardware:

Initial Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization deployment is on more than 80 blade servers in Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) PODs. Each POD houses 32 blade servers consisting of four UCS 5108 chassis, each supporting eight blade servers featuring the 2P/12C Intel 5675 processor with 96 GB of RAM. Networking for each POD consists of two Cisco 6140 Fabric Interconnect with a six-port 8 GB Fiber Channel module in each switch. Each server blade is configured with the Cisco UCS M81KR virtual interface card, which is a dual-port 10 GE mezzanine card that supports up 128 PCIe virtual interfaces that can be either NICs or HBAs.

Benefits:

Simplified support and gained operational efficiencies by standardizing on Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization; reduced datacenter costs through decreased capital spending as well as lower ongoing expenses for power, cooling, and support; increased IT service agility through load balancing and rapid server provisioning; improved system recovery, business continuity, and high availability; achieved single vendor support of operating system and virtualization stack and an infra- structure foundation for path to private cloud (self service, chargeback, etc.)

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Background:

Founded in 1996, Symcor is one of Canada’s leading financial processing services providers, supporting major banks and retail and telecommunications companies in Canada. Symcor was created as a privately held joint venture between three of Canada’s largest financial institutions. Through a network of more than 3,900 employees and 11 strategically located sites across Canada, Symcor offers solutions in image-based cheque processing, cash management and statement production services, enabling customers to cost-effectively streamline operations.

Business Challenge:

A longtime user of open source software, Symcor has always relied on Linux as a key operating system for its core business. Over the years, the company accrued a number of different Linux distributions. In addition to Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Symcor used Fedora, CentOS, and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, which made support more complicated—and costly—than it needed to be. “With so many different flavors of Linux, it was hard to maintain the in-house skills we needed to support them all,” said Kyle Bassett,compute architect at Symcor. As a result, in 2010, Symcor decided to standardize on a single Linux platform.

“The top criterion for choosing a Linux distribution was going to be the availability of enterprise-class support,” said Bassett. “That way, if we had any issues, we’d have somewhere to turn for support other than the online community forums.” Symcor also had a fairly large population of SPARC machines running Sun Solaris. In parallel with its initiative to consolidate Linux distributions, Symcor decided to migrate as many of their UNIX systems as possible over to Linux running on industry-standard x86 machines. A third element in Symcor’s massive re-invention of its IT platform was virtualization. Like most enterprises, Symcor wanted to reduce both the capital and operating costs of its datacenter. At the same time, Symcor wanted to be able to easily add capacity as needed on the fly and at the lowest possible price point. Symcor also saw that having a common stack was key to increasing capacity and accelerating the ability to bring on new projects quickly.

Symcor first tested the potential of virtualization using the Xen hypervisor that was previously part of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Although Xen worked well from a performance standpoint, managing the platform was a slightly different story. With no orchestration tool or management layer for Xen, the technology was too complex and expensive to be a practical virtualization solution. The good news, however, was that this initial foray into virtualization helped Symcor clarify what it wanted in a virtualization platform: an integrated hypervisor and operating system. “Not only would this coupling improve performance, it would also mean the two pieces would evolve with each other working together, not against each other, as the technology evolved,” said Bassett. VMware was considered but was ruled out due to cost, future market direction, and vendor lock-in.

It was at that point in time that Red Hat announced an updated strategy for its future in virtualization—which included phasing out Xen in favor of the Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) hypervisor that would work seamlessly with both past and future versions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Symcor started evaluating the KVM-based Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization as soon as a beta version was available and has since determined that this is its virtualization solution of choice.

Solution:

Today Symcor’s datacenters rely heavily on Red Hat products. Symcor uses Red Hat Enterprise Linux as a workhorse operating system as well as a hypervisor with the integrated KVM technology. And between the company’s two physical sites, the IT team plans to initially deploy Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization on approximately 80 blades (five full server cabinets, with 32 servers per cabinet) spread over two sites with four pods at one site (two test, two production) and one production pod at the other site. Under each of these hypervisors, there will be a minimum of 25 virtual machines running Red Hat Enterprise Linux as the guest operating system. Each x86 server will have two sockets, on which it will be able to support an unlimited number of guests.

Efforts are underway for Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization to support many of Symcor’s mission-critical applications, including IBM DB2, Oracle Database and WebSphere as well as the many open source applications (e.g., PostgreSQL, Apache and Geronimo). Ultimately, the IT team’s goal is to achieve a 100% virtualized environment. The first workloads to virtualize are software development, testing, and QA workloads. The next phase of virtualizing will include web servers, database servers, and its custom-built archiving application.

For Symcor’s IT team, working with Red Hat technology has made a noticeable difference in how they operate, primarily because they now have a robust, unified management console. With high availability, live migration, and a system scheduler to balance workloads, Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization has the required feature set to facilitate IT maintenance and management for Bassett and his colleagues. As for Linux management, Symcor uses Red Hat Network Satellite for all its patching and server builds. “This will make meeting compliance much easier,” said Bassett.

Symcor uses Red Hat Satellite for both hypervisor and virtual server provisioning and updates. When a Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization guest is created, a minimum 4 GB LUN is created on the storage cluster to support boot-up, then the VM is kickstarted from the Red Hat Satellite infrastructure. The storage cluster also serves as a Red Hat Network proxy allowing each environment to interact with the Red Hat Network Satellite infrastructure in a secure and network efficient manner. Using the automation build features and the configuration management features, Symcor has been able to reduce provisioning to about three minutes for a virtual server. Other features of Red Hat Satellite that are being utilized are the monitoring modules for virtual server status information.

As an early adopter of Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization, Symcor worked closely with Red Hat while testing the beta release of the platform. The partnership that resulted proved mutually beneficial. Whenever Bassett and his team came across a bug or felt a certain feature was missing, they relayed the message to the Red Hat team, who would then address the issue in the next version. “They took our feedback and quickly incorporated it into the product,” said Bassett. “Other vendors may have tried to charge us, but Red Hat thanked us.”

Benefits:

Symcor has reaped numerous benefits from having a standardized Linux environment and a virtualization platform that ties the hypervisor into the operating system. “Rather than having a hypervisor from one vendor and an operating system from another, we get both from Red Hat,” he said. “That definitely eases support.”

Ensuring high availability is a top concern for Symcor, and Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Management is a huge help in meeting this requirement. By automatically restarting critical virtual machines on a new host if a hardware failure occurs, Symcor gets benefits from improved system recovery and business continuity. Other Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization management features, such as live migration and maintenance management are also very important. “We can now provision new servers much faster, without having to interrupt the virtual machines that are running,” said Bassett.

In addition to the lower power, cooling, and infrastructure costs Symcor has achieved with virtualization, the company now finds it easier to return its leased datacenter equipment on time as well. “That was occasionally a problem in the past,” said Bassett. “But now since the entire POD is one asset on a lease schedule, we can remove the operating systems from the servers and return the entire POD.” Symcor is also experiencing faster and easier migration to newer hardware platforms once the lease of the older hardware has expired. Symcor can now avoid incurring the expensive costs associated with extending equipment leases. “Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization along with our storage architecture and Red Hat Network Satellite has enabled this accelerated migration with hardware abstraction, which removes the dependencies on any particular motherboard and chip and makes workloads much more mobile as well as more resilient and recoverable,” said Bassett.

Although virtualization comes with obvious cost savings, Red Hat’s managed socket subscription model combined with the leverage of open source software has further reduced costs for Symcor. Symcor found the Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization solution price much more price-competitive than alternative solutions, enabling it to virtualize more of its infrastructure within its approved budget.

But above all, Symcor now has a trusted partner to work with to improve and evolve its datacenter moving forward. “We always try to stay up-to-date with the latest versions and features of our technologies, so we wanted a vendor that would not only keep us up-to-date, but also stay ahead of the pack,” said Bassett. “Unlike some other vendors we’ve worked with in the past, Red Hat really gives us that trust factor, with a solid roadmap and a consistency in what they deliver. We wanted to work with a leader in the technology space—and that’s exactly why we chose Red Hat.”

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