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Storage hypervisor solves city's VM management and performance problem

Todd Erickson

Moving its physical servers into a VMware vSphere virtualized environment three years ago caused a problem for the city of San Luis Obispo, Calif., IT team.

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City Network Services Supervisor Miguel Guardado found he constantly needed more spindles for his Dell Compellent storage array to keep up with IOPS requirements.

He eventually solved the problem by letting Virsto Software Corp. VM management software do much of the work, but not until after he made several hardware additions.

Every six months after the project began, Guardado had to request more money to add hard disk drives to his array. "Every time I went to management and said that I needed more storage, they would ask me how long that would last," he said. And he didn't have good answers because he didn't know which applications and physical servers would move to the virtualized environment. He came to the conclusion that "It's time to change the mentality of how the data center is run."

Guardado was running out of spindles again in February 2012. His options were to buy another 24-disk shelf, scale back upcoming projects including a planned 100-seat virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) project, or buy expensive solid-state drives.

Around that time, Guardado saw a presentation from a Virsto representative showing what the vendor described as a storage hypervisor at a VMware User Group (VMUG) meeting. The Virsto VM management software sits on each physical host and takes the virtual machine (VM) random I/O stream that degrades physical storage performance and "sequentializes" it before sending it to the physical storage layer. "It made sense to me to let the [Virsto] software and the database do the work, as opposed to having to increase your hardware," he said.

Guardado set up a Virsto storage and small VDI proof-of-concept environment in May 2012, and was impressed. "We saw the increased performance almost immediately," he said. With his storage system alone, he could squeeze out approximately 6,500 IOPS if everything ran at peak. But he said the available IOPS increased to 20,000 using Virsto software.

Guardado implemented Virsto in a 4 TB production environment in September 2012. It took him and the Virsto team about a week of after-hours work to move data from the legacy system to the Virsto hypervisor environment. There were a few complications. The way Compellent's storage management software sees drives was incompatible with the Virsto system, so Virsto helped Guardado and his team tweak the Compellent arrays.

Now Guardado has 10 virtual servers running in the Virsto environment. He plans to add the remaining 83 virtual servers soon, including a 50-desktop VDI employee training setup and a 100-desktop VDI deployment scheduled for this summer. He is moving his applications that require the most IOPS onto Virsto, including Microsoft SQL Server databases and Microsoft Exchange.

"The servers run in a happy environment," Guardado said. "They're not running on high utilization or giving alerts on space or latency."

And with more city services requiring IT support, Guardado said he is prepared for expanding his virtual environment. "Everything is ending up in the data center," he said. "Utility billing and basically any service that the city provides has some kind of virtual server that it's tied to. I'm more than confident that we will be able to add servers to the environment and have the performance that would be required to provide that seamless service to our citizens."


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