Beyond the Superdome

Consolidation paves the way for utility computing

Server consolidation paves the way for utility computing.

Belkin •  Compton, Calif . •  "Are you crazy?" That was the reaction John Adcock, network services manager, got when he told the vice president of finance that he planned to port applications from 11 Sun data center servers to one 64-processor HP  9000 Superdome.

After all, the servers were running a highly customized version of Oracle's 11i database and enterprise applications . The consolidation would require a complete data conversion, including 241 patches, some of which can take hours to apply. And this wasn't the only IT project the fast-growing interconnectivity manufacturer had going on at the time.

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But there was a method to Adcock's madness. His Sun  Solaris 6500 database server not only needed upgrading, but it also had crashed six to eight times during its two years in service. Adcock wasn't so sure he wanted to stick with Sun, but he also didn't want a mixed environment. One day, while researching server prices, the Sun server crashed for the last time. "I realized that I had the ammunition to change this," Adcock says.

That's when the serious homework began. It took two months to assemble the data needed to compare the three-year costs of purchasing, upgrading, maintaining and supporting several Sun servers vs. purchasing one high-end HP server, converting the data and training his staff on HP-UX. Other considerations included floor space, power consumption, administration, manageability, labor costs and connectivity costs.

Consolidation turned out to be the less-expensive option. Even so, "I had two to three weeks of sleepless nights after making the decision,"Adcock says. "It's one of those decisions I knew would make or break a career."

The consolidation has had many benefits, including a move toward utility computing . For instance, Adcock bought a 64-processor Superdome, but only paid for 48. The unused processors are priced at "instant capacity on demand" prices and can be "turned on" and paid for as needed.

Adcock says he also likes the enhanced fault-tolerance capabilities afforded by partitioning. "I have nine instances running on the Superdome; technically it functions like nine separate servers," he says. As a result, if a network card goes down or an app misbehaves, none of the other applications are affected. If a processor fails, an auxiliary processor kicks in.

But as Adcock anticipated, the move wasn't easy. His team had almost finished when it got word that it had one month to upgrade its Oracle applications to support the company splitting into two separate entities. Even though this entailed halting and then starting over again on the conversion, it actually made it easier because it eliminated the need to transfer patches from the old version of the application. "We had a team of about 10 people do it in a week," Adcock says.

It all ended well, but Adcock says the main lesson he learned was that it's important to know all the major projects planned across the company for the next six months. Other advice he offers:

•  Create a detailed infrastructure diagram of your current environment.

•  Be sure that what you're moving to will give you the same or better performance.

•  Don't wait to be up and running to train employees on the new environment.

When things quiet down, Adcock plans to use Superdome's Itanium chip, which can run Windows and Linux, to consolidate most of Belkin's Intel-based servers.


Previous architecture:

11 Sun servers, including a 28-processor Solaris 6500, six 4500s and four smaller Solaris servers.

Consolidated architecture:

64-processor HP 9000 Superdome running HP-UX.


Consolidated applications:

Oracle 11i database, plus Oracle

manufacturing, financials, purchasing, human resources and payroll applications.

Main reason for consolidation:

When Belkin needed to upgrade its Sun Solaris 6500 server, it decided to move to an HP platform, but it didn’t want a mixed HP/Sun environment. This led the company to consolidate on HP.


250% improvement in system


Superdome requires one-third of the floor space and one-tenth of the power of the previous 11 servers.

Decrease in overall cost of ownership, even when considering education and conversion costs.

Volume management software savings of $140,000 per year. The Superdome has built-in volume management software, negating the need to purchase third-party software.

Lessons learned:

“You have to know your environment inside and out — storage, connectivity, switches, available storage, storage in use, everything,” says John Adcock, network services manager at Belkin. “You should also get a definite project plan of everything planned by the company for the next six months,” he suggests, because a consolidation will consume a lot of your staff resources.

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Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.