American Water taps Novell's PlateSpin tool

Keeps physical-to-physical and physical-to-virtual system migrations flowing smoothly

With all the talk of cloud this and cloud that, sometimes it's easy to forget that many IT managers are often as not grappling with traditional infrastructure and all its constraints.

The challenge, as ever, is figuring out how to manage the movement of application workloads from old, stodgy servers and onto either newer hardware or, as appropriate, virtual machines (VM). That's an issue with which Matthew Larson, a virtual infrastructure specialist with American Water, a water and wastewater utility serving more than 30 states, regularly contends.

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For the last few years, the Voorhees, N.J., company has been moving application workloads from end-of-life hardware, often running at remote locations, to new physical servers or VMs housed at its two data centers. The servers run Red Hat Linux or Windows operating systems, he says.

"With the exception of our database servers, our objective is to virtualize as many physical servers as is practical," Larson says. "Not including database servers and servers in remote locations in the field, we're at about 60% virtualized. With the field servers, the figure is closer to 45%."

Most of the time, American Water can handle the physical-to-virtual conversion using VMware Converter, a free tool. But the more challenging migrations -- roughly 30% -- require a more sophisticated capability. For those, Larson says, the company uses Novell's PlateSpin Migrate, which also is an imperative for ongoing physical-to-physical migrations.

"Prior to getting PlateSpin Migrate, we had no means of moving a workload from one piece of hardware to another, aside from rebuilding from scratch essentially. But with PlateSpin, we've been able to take application and operating system workloads off old hardware that was failing on us and causing lots of headaches and pain and put them on new hardware," Larson says.

"After a few times of doing that, we knew PlateSpin was here to say. It proved its value," he adds.

In one instance, for example, American Water used PlateSpin Migrate to push a homegrown call center Web application from an old Windows server to a new one in a matter of hours. But this was after the team had earlier spent nearly three months using standard conversion procedures.

"We thought we had everything to proceed with the parallel migration approach, but for some applications, as we began to migrate, we found that much tribal knowledge was lost with people leaving and we just couldn't get everything to work. We would have saved a lot of time if we'd leveraged PlateSpin from the start," Larson says.

He also notes that on top of the time savings, without PlateSpin, the team wouldn't have been able to get the application onto new hardware.

American Water's IT organization handles roughly eight to 15 system migrations a month, improving the reliability and performance of its mission-critical applications as it does, Larson says. PlateSpin will come into play for about 40% those monthly conversions, he adds.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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