Subaru takes a virtual drive

An automotive company revs up reliability and savings while slashing server counts.

All-Star category: OS, Servers & Data Center

As an early adopter of server virtualization, Subaru of Indiana Automotive has saved a boatload of money and sharply reduced downtime. A three-year project, concluded in January, has become a model of enterprise-scale virtualization. For these reasons, Subaru of Indiana earns distinction as a 2006 Enterprise All-Star.

The project centered on three VMware products: ESX Server, VirtualCenter and VMotion. In the first wave of implementation, which began in May 2003, the Lafayette, Ind., company consolidated about 50 physical servers to 25. In its second wave, it squeezed its data center to 15 physical servers (including three multiprocessor units) supporting 60 virtual servers. At this time, the company also added a 1TB IBM Total Storage DS4300 Fibre Channel storage-area network to support the virtual environment.

Two business drivers pushed the auto manufacturer to adopt server virtualization in 2003 before the technology had achieved widespread corporate acceptance: power consumption and server sprawl. Power use had hit a critical state. "We did a power study on our data center and found we didn't have enough to run the servers we had," says the project's manager, Jamey Vester, a production-control IT specialist for the company. "We couldn't replace the servers, because most newer servers use even more power. If we didn't do something different, we would need to rewire everything."

In the meantime, server sprawl was killing productivity and not just for the IT staff who had to manage the physical servers. Server failures were causing an untenable amount of downtime for workers. "We have hundreds of people working on the production floor. If there is an hour of downtime, we lose about $20,000 in salaries, plus we miss deadlines and need to pay overtime to make it up," Vester says.

The year before the project began, downtime tallied 28 hours. For 2005, downtime had been whittled away to less than three hours, with VMware directly responsible for 40% of failures being avoided, Vester estimates. The rest of the savings were because of other IT efficiencies implemented during the scope of this project, he says.

VMware had other benefits. The VirtualCenter tool lets virtual servers be managed and moved without affecting availability. And the software reduced the time it takes to provisioning a server from weeks - or even months - to a couple of hours, Vester says.

The project was affordable, costing less than $150,000, the company says, and it paid for itself twice over before it had been completed. For example, Subaru of Indiana saved an immediate $30,000 on hardware, as well as the expense of having to rewire its data center. On hardware savings alone, the project "paid for itself immediately," Vester says. "With the downtime reduction, we definitely had a positive ROI."

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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