The Toughest Leg of Our Virtualization Journey: Ensuring Mission-Critical Performance

EMC has traveled a long way on its journey to cloud computing over the past seven years, saving millions of dollars by virtualizing more than 80 percent of its applications, servers, storage and networks. But the last leg of our virtualization journey—virtualizing our enterprise mission-critical systems—is perhaps the most challenging part.

More than a dozen data base administrators, performance testers, performance architects and application experts at EMC IT are working to make sure that when we do make the jump to 100 percent virtualization in the months ahead, our most crucial operations will be at maximum performance level.

Mission-critical is defined as supporting an organization’s revenue generation and/or core business processes. All large companies have mission-critical platforms supporting sales, services, marketing, manufacturing and engineering—with many different applications. For example, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) platforms and Customer Relations Management (CRM) solutions are mission critical. As with most companies, these are the largest systems in EMC IT and need managed services, storage, compute power, and skilled resources.

For EMC, ERP and CRM are our top two mission-critical applications out of a total of 21.

EMC began virtualizing its mission-critical operations four years ago. For CRM, for instance, we moved all the application tiers from physical to virtual servers in 2009. It had 240 physical servers and they were consolidated to 20 servers using VMware technology. Last year, we transitioned our CRM compute and storage infrastructure to VCE Vblock reference architecture as part of the transition to our new data center in Durham, N.C. Vblock platforms deliver a complete IT infrastructure that integrates best-of-breed virtualization, networking, compute, storage, security, and management technologies.

However, the CRM database servers are still physical for the time being. Over the past six months, we have been doing lab testing of virtualization of these database servers. We are working with VMware technologists to see what kind of fine-tuning we need to do to make sure we don’t get any performance degradation from virtualizing.

CRM is used by sales and services. Service labs need to operate 7x24x365, via the Support Center (Hopkinton, Australia, India and Ireland). That involves sitting in labs and taking service request calls. Even a few seconds delay can reduce customer service performance.

Once we have completed our testing in the next few months, we will deploy the VMware technology to fully virtualize CRM.

We are conducting similar performance testing as part of our multi-year, next-generation ERP initiative which is scheduled to go live in July and will be running on a fully virtualized infrastructure built on VCE Vblock reference architecture in our new data center.

Over the past six months, our teams of experts have been building performance, test and production environments for the new ERP solution. We will complete the test environments by the end of Q1 and will do performance testing in Q2 of this year. Testing of the new ERP solution centers on making sure the virtualized platform will be able to handle work loads and transactions at optimal levels. For example, can the new ERP system handle the end-of-quarter demands for order and invoice processing?
VMware’s newly released vSphere 5 (the industry-leading virtualization platform for building cloud infrastructures) will help us meet our performance goals, which we are validating in our ongoing testing of the new solution. Fine-tuning the VMware performance will let us get the most out of our more efficient, flexible and more scalable enterprise mission-critical systems to complete this final leg of our journey to 100 percent virtualization.

EMC IT is leading the way in relatively uncharted territory to 100 percent virtualization. Over the next few months, the final push to reach our lofty goal will be won in our test labs as we work to ensure mission-critical performance of our bread & butter applications.

About the Author: Selvarasu Subramani