In order to replace an ageing server estate at Grampian Housing Association, Castle Computer Services has completed the implementation of 16 VMware virtual servers and its own Castle DataGuard backup and recovery service.
Grampian Housing’s business growth and consequent demand for more complex IT services had resulted in a sprawling estate of around 10 servers, each at least three years old. The server room was very noisy and space was running out. Cooling was also an issue, with considerable heat being generated in the room.
To compound the situation, backup arrangements were time consuming and cumbersome. A full backup to tape for the entire server infrastructure would take around 18 hours, which was causing problems because the backup was still running when people came in the next morning.
Martin Laws, information systems manager, Grampian Housing Association, said, “We couldn’t react as fast as we wanted to if there was a need for new software or system add-ons that required a new server. It would take about two to three weeks to get a server and find space for it. Therefore because of the lack of space and cooling problems, we began to shoehorn multiple applications onto a single server to avoid adding another box.
“We wanted to significantly beef-up our disaster recovery. Because we were backing-up to tape and it was taking so long, if there was a staff request to restore a file, it would take ages to process. We had to get the tape from our off-site location, catalogue it, index it, find the file and provide it to the user. It could take days to do. If there was a disaster we were aware that backing up to tape would have really increased the time to restore significant amounts of data.”
Castle was awarded preferred IT partner status as part of an earlier tendering exercise to support Grampian Housing’s existing physical network structure. Laws said, “We knew Castle Computer Services was VMware- and Veeam-accredited. We were happy with how VMware worked on the couple of virtualised servers we already had. We considered several options but felt that it was best to standardise the infrastructure on VMware.”
Grampian Housing has now reduced its server estate from ten servers to three physical servers supporting 16 virtual servers, and the reduction in physical hardware to power and cool in the data room has cut the energy costs by two-thirds. Laws said, “We can now commission and build a new server in less than a day, instead of three weeks. To be able to react that quickly is a huge benefit.”
Laws said, “We are about to complete the implementation of Castle’s DataGuard, which was the second part of the project. We backup every night on our premises which is replicated to Castle’s datacentres. Previous 18-hour backups to tape have been replaced by full backup to disk in less than three hours; it’s good to get that email every morning to say that the backup was completed successfully and in just a few hours.”
Following the implementation, Grampian Housing found that it now had plenty of disk space for storage on the new SAN so it is running shadow copies four times a day on the network for end-users. This means that if they delete standard Microsoft Office files at any time, the IT team can bring them back at any one of the four staging points.
Laws said, “Because of VMware, we can do hardware maintenance during working hours without the end-users noticing. So if there are any hardware upgrades on any of the hosts, we can use VMware’s VMotion to move the servers to another host. Before, it would have taken a weekend or would have been an out-of-hours job. Our IT team naturally welcomes anything that reduces out-of-hours work!