Mallesons plots virtual future with VMware

One of Australia's largest adopters of VMware's ESX Server -- Australia-based international law firm Mallesons Stephen Jaques -- recovered every last dollar spent on the system three months before the rollout was even complete.

One of Australia's largest adopters of VMware's ESX Server -- international law firm Mallesons Stephen Jaques -- recovered every last dollar spent on the system three months before the migration was even complete.

Snapshot

source: Mallesons Stephen Jaques

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An international commercial law firm which specialises in advising major corporations and financial institutions in Australia and Asia.

And ongoing cost savings of a similar amount are likely to occur year on year as a result of its virtualised rollout.

Mallesons virtualised 140 of its 290 servers required to operate its Australian and internationally based offices in an effort to reduce hardware maintenance, power and air-conditioning usage and datacentre real estate costs. A total of AU$300,000 was spent on the 12-month rollout.

It also wanted to increase performance and redundancy through the use of virtual servers.

The results, to date, have been so positive they have led to Mallesons making a pledge to ensure that any future server deployments are considered as virtual server candidates first, and the procurement of physical servers would only be considered where absolutely necessary.

Server and network infrastructure manager Steve Behringer

"Our procurement costs were by far offset by the savings we made by removing so many hardware costs and saving datacentre space," Mallesons server and network infrastructure manager Steve Behringer said.

"We started seeing the benefits of virtualising our servers almost instantly ... now we plan to only purchase hardware that is VM-compatible which will help us realise even further improvements."

Mallesons' decision to become a somewhat early large adopter of VMware's ESX Server 2.5.3 was not only driven by cost.

With five offices in Australia and a presence in London, Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, Mallesons required its main datacentre in Sydney to provide 24x7 uptime with high performance.

"We have 55 Technology staff, most of which are based in Sydney where most servers are located," Behringer said.

These staff ensure Mallesons' mission-critical applications such as its Microsoft Exchange 2003 e-mail, Interwoven worksite document and Aderant Keystone practice-management applications and online client-facing deal rooms, as well as SQL 2005 and its Cisco Callmanager Voice over IP communications network, are available to staff at all times.

Mallesons staff also use BlackBerrys for mobile e-mail, and Citrix for remote access to its company applications which usually run off Windows XP in the office environment.

"Our goal has always been high performance and high availability -- the firm has 2100 staff working in nine centres across three regions, so there are always people working somewhere around the clock here and overseas," Behringer said.

"If you have a physical server that is hosting 15 guests and it goes down? Well you have 15 guests disappear. That thought used to keep me up at night in a cold sweat."

Ben Swindale, Mallesons manager of operations and architecture
So 18 months ago, when a fair portion of its 290 ageing HP and Dell servers running Windows Server 2003 required replacement, Behringer and Mallesons' manager of operations and architecture, Ben Swindale, knew a solution that would better cater for redundancy, as well as the increasing cost of real estate, had to be considered.

"We knew we could not justify replacing old tin with new from a business perspective -- we had to look further," Swindale said.

"We looked at blade-server technologies and came up with the same cost problem. We have our datacentres offsite, which really means we cannot afford to be flippant with real estate."

"We saw that we could dramatically reduce the amount of physical servers we required by using ESX virtual servers. We now still have the same amount of servers but 140 of these are now virtual," Behringer said.

Mallesons had already been running VMware's GSX Server product in a test environment and had two key staff that had become proficient in the technology.

So a rollout only required VMware's input at the design stage of the rollout.

"We started with 30 racks [in our datacentres] and now we are down to 21 and at our smaller in-office sites we have gone from one and a half racks to only a half, which has allowed us to give space back to the business," Behringer said.

A reduction in racks has also seen the firm's power and air-conditioning costs drop dramatically, according to Swindale, and virtualisation has allowed Mallesons to spread workloads across its server stack, providing better load sharing, redundancy and uptime at all hours of the day. It has also contributed to the firm's objective of lessening its impact on the environment.

"The migration occurred over 12 months and was primarily done by two staff members over various weekend outage windows," Swindale said.

Swindale added that some servers in the past did not warrant failover at all, but by using ESX the IT team was able to offer redundancy for everything on Mallesons' system.

Furthermore, using the VMotion technology packed into the ESX offering -- which lets users move live virtual machines to other hosts -- Mallesons has been able to realise better levels of application availability.

"VMotion also means we can take a virtual copy of a server before we do an upgrade, which gives us an easy point of rollback if, at any time, something were to go wrong -- this has already saved us a lot of time."

"We recently did an Active Directory upgrade to 2003, which we ended up holding up until we deployed our ESX Infrastructure because we could realise some benefits in getting all of our domain controllers onto the virtual infrastructure before we even started the upgrade," Swindale said.

"In the end this saved us time -- it gave us a very quick rollback plan if any of the upgrades and patching failed. And today, it continues to give us a very quick recovery should any of the monthly security updates fail."

Future upgrades, using VMware's ESX VI3, which includes new high-availability functions, are now being investigated by the IT department at Mallesons, according to Swindale, for its ongoing replacement of old servers to new virtualised hosts.

"We already have new applications earmarked for virtualisation, especially now that we no longer have to go through lengthy business cases for purchasing a new server each time it is required," Swindale said.

"Every time a new application is requested that requires a new server deployment, we can deploy that new server in six minutes, and at little cost, whereas previously we had to justify each physical server.

"The only hitch we have had is that we realised we needed to put processes in place to mitigate against the risk of a proliferation of these virtual server deployments -- it was just too easy.

"A business case is still required to prove to us that a new server is required for a new application, but the time to implement and deploy has been drastically reduced."

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