• United States
Contributing Writer

The big box theory

Apr 05, 20045 mins
Computers and PeripheralsData CenterSAN

Hospital ports apps to 32-processor Unisys server.

Truman Medical Centers • Kansas City, Mo. • The word “explosion” is never good when you’re in an IT environment. But that’s how Rob Jones describes the growth of two-processor Intel servers at his company, Truman Medical Centers, as he continually added new applications  over the past few years.

“We were seeing the number of servers per technician rising, and we needed to get above that curve,” says Jones, director of IT at Truman in Kansas City, Mo.

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Jones knew he was outgrowing his one-or-two-application-per-server environment, where each new server meant one more box to maintain, patch, back up, network and pay maintenance on. So even though the cost of a 32-processor ES7000 server from Unisys  was not exactly inexpensive, Jones knew it would consume fewer internal resources and also provide flexibility he couldn’t get on his stand-alone Windows systems.

“Supporting a two-processor box is just as hard as supporting a four- or eight- or 32-processor box, so it frees up time, plus availability is higher on the [ES7000],” he says. Jones also wanted the ability to rearrange the server’s RAM, hard drives and network segments, and reallocate processors according to his application needs.

Jones achieved those goals by implementing the Unisys box running Windows Server 2003 DataCenter Edition. The first application to move onto a partition on the Unisys box was Exchange 2003, which knocked out five Windows servers. Next to move was a cluster of nine file-sharing servers containing personal directories. Jones also centralized storage on an EMC  SAN connected to a StorageTek automated library, which got rid of nine direct-attached storage servers.

The next step, Jones says, is to move Truman’s custom version of SQL Server and the Microsoft Sharepoint document library.

Jones says he is very happy with the ES7000’s ability to dedicate processors to applications, and he likes doing this at the machine level rather than setting up virtual machines. He can set up one hardware partition on the entire machine or break it down into several. Right now, there are two eight-way and two four-way partitions. “They all share one set of RAM, and I can move processors from one partition to another for flexibility,” he says.

Working with virtual servers, he says, would have been too complex. “I have people trained on Windows, and if I had said, ‘You have to learn VMWare,’ that’s one more layer they would have had to learn,” he says.

Things will get a little more complicated when Jones begins porting Truman’s multiple flavors of SQL Server to the ES7000. “You have to be really careful about which applications you can consolidate,” he says. “SQL is the toughest one because you have to look at which databases can really be together in one particular box.” Already, Jones knows he’ll need to maintain several separate servers for particular instances of SQL Server that need to be stand-alone.

Applications that are FDA-certified also cannot move to the Unisys platform because they aren’t certified to run on the Microsoft Data Center operating system. Still, Jones says he plans to consolidate as much as possible.

Another benefit to the server consolidation was the ability to create a more robust storage environment. Rather than direct-attached storage that was becoming unmanageable with Truman’s rapid growth, the ES7000 is connected via Brocade Communications Fibre Channel  switches to the EMC SAN, which is connected to the StorageTek automated tape library via Brocade switches.

Jones warns other companies that want to consolidate servers that it’s crucial to plan how to handle maintenance in the new environment. For instance, he says, it will be easier now to do things such as install patches to Exchange because it’s just on one server, not 10. However, the downtime will affect not just one-tenth of Exchange users but all of them. “You have to be careful as far as what you can consolidate, and once you do, how are you going to arrange your maintenance windows?” he says.

Previous architecture:
10 two-processor Intel-based servers.
Five Exchange servers.
Nine direct-attached storage servers.
Consolidated architecture:
One 32-processor Unisys ES7000 server running Windows Server 2003 DataCenter Edition.
EMC SAN and StorageTek automated library.
Consolidated applications:
Exchange 2003, file-sharing, Microsoft Sharepoint, SQL Server.
Main reason for consolidation:
Truman Medical could not manage its fast-growing computing environment if it continued using multiple servers. It needed to decrease the time and effort of server maintenance, and it wanted the flexibility of a larger multiprocessor box.
Despite continuing application growth, Truman has maintained a 15-to-1 ratio of servers to technicians vs. 13-to-1 in the past.
Lessons learned:

“You have to be careful about which applications you can consolidate,”

says Rob Jones, director of IT at Truman. “You need to do a lot of analysis on the front end and afterwards to see if it really works or not.”