I recently had the opportunity to speak with Nick Portolese, Senior Manager of Data Center Operations for Nielsen Mobile, an Altor Networks customer. He spent a few moments sharing his experiences with their software. Nick's comments follow.
Please tell me who you are and what your organization does?
Nielsen Mobile is a subsidiary of the Nielsen Company. Nielsen is known to be the largest provider of syndicated consumer research. Nielsen Mobile was acquired in August 2007 allowing the Nielsen Company to watch what is happening that the company could watch what was going on in the world of mobile devices, the "third screen."
Nick Portolese Senior Manager of Data Center Operations. The company has five data centers in the United States and Europe. He's managing 1,000 nodes.
What are you doing that needed this technology?
Every business unit wanted its own isolated computing environment. This lead to the company facing space, power and cooling constraints. The company looked into VMware ESX Server as a way to get control of this set of problems.
They were also looking into network management for security and to better understand what was happening at the virtual switch layer back in 2007. At first people didn't trust this environment. They had to be shown that it worked.
They started testing this idea in their dev/test environment. Then it moved into the staging environment and now into production. They have 30 ESX hosts and 4 HA clusters.
That products did you consider before selecting something?
At the time they started down this path, there were very few options. Altor certainly was a pioneer in this environment.
What tangible benefits has the organization received through the use of this technology
At first, the business units didn't trust the concept of virtual servers consolidated onto a small number of hosts. Once they learned that this approach made it easy to deploy new servers, they went wild setting up new virtual machines (could be virtual servers or virtual clients). The network security manager was increasingly concerned about the huge amount of information that was flowing back and forth across the wire.
Altor has made it possible for administrators to know what is going on at the virtual switch layer so that they can keep control of virtual machine environment.
They initially started as a beta customer for the Altor virtual network security analyzer. They did a proof of concept on two ESX hosts that were supporting internal production and virtual desktops running Windows XP for their off shore development teams.
Then they started exploring the features of the product and discovered that several of the Windows XP systems were talking with an external server. After a bit of exploration, they discovered that some of the systems were going directly out to the Windows update service rather than being updated through the organization's own servers. This led Nielsen Mobile to discover that some of their internal group policies were not implemented properly. Prior to this discovery, it was thought that every system was implementing these policies correctly. It would have been very difficult to discover this without this tool.
Nielsen Mobile has also used Altor's tools to group systems so that they can only communicate with one another. Any other communication occurs, the tools alert the administrators. This ability has also made it easier to properly control and maintain the environment.
What advice would you offer others facing similar challenges
Make sure that you have lifecycle management tools to control the VM sprawl that is likely to occur. It is very important to know what's going on. Virtualization is great and can offer a lot of benefits. Do your home work up front, however, so you are prepared to deal with what will happens. Without the correct tools, it becomes challenging to understand performance issues.
Since people come and go in a company, it is very possible that some virtual machines will become orphans. They might no longer be used, but they're still consuming resources. We've implemented some tools that will check on a periodic basis to de-provision systems no longer needed.
They've also discovered people downloading unlicensed software. This exposes the company's network to all sorts of problems. It's important to have tools that discover this type of activity so it can be properly managed. Altor played a significant role in this discovery.