Brents IT Blog

Random thoughts by an IT GOAT


VMWare ...or not to VMWare

Recently we decided to deploy a Health Records system, most commonly referred to as an EHR (Electronic Health Record) system.  I was given the choice of deploying physical servers or a VMWare environment.  Seems like a simple choice until you look at the details and costs.  More servers equals more money, more software equals more money, so where is the balance?  Lets also consider that i am not new to virtualization technology, but i am new to VMWare offerings.  With that said, a decision must be made, what will it be?

I am one of those guys who will see something interesting and think about it a long hard time before i come to a conclusion.  i will weigh what i like and don't like as well as what other people say about it.  So it was about time i hit the "internets" and saw what others had posted on the subject.  While i knew what it would take to run a physical environment with many servers, i didn't know what i might need, if anything special, to run a VMWare environment and if there are any caveats.

In my travels i discovered that terminal servers were a no-no, the need for access to physical hardware made some transitions useless and sometimes their support is lacking.  With that said, they did have some serious benefits!  Ability to install server OS's without the need to worry about drivers, move virtual servers live without any issues across physical servers, reduced power requirements, ability to add servers on the fly and via template as needed(or whenever), migration to physical servers to virtual servers was available and widely supported(even on Linux), although SAN architecture was not required( it was suggested and required for HA ), and finally there was better resource handling.

I would say the paragraph above says it all.  The benefits and applications far outweighed the possible issue.  Yes, i would have to keep some servers physical, but maybe thats not a bad thing.  What i could count on was high availability, scheduled auto-maintenance, lower power bills, more rack space, a server for every task instead of shared feature sets and i learning curve!  Yes i said learning curve.  It was new to me and it would be required that i learn it and learn it quickly.  I can say i was and still am, very impressed by what this technology has done for our company.  While it took a two weeks to get right, the effort paid off ten fold.  I am currently in the process of moving the remaining 50% of our servers to VM with the hopes of being 95% VM by the end of the year.  This will also give me the opportunity to upgrade some sql 2000 database and exchange to the latest versions.  While we are a 2003 shop, i do not plan on going to 2008 just yet, though i have deployed two 2008 dhcp servers to hopefully start our transition.

Here is what we did:

3 VMWare host servers ( IBM 3650s ), Dual quad core with 32 GB of memory, 2 100GB mirrored drives, and 10 NIC ports( two quad port intel 1GB NIC's with 2 onboard )
3 Lefthand SANs ( see previous post ) in a cluster.
2 HP procurve 2810's
VMWare 3.5 foundation

15 guest OS's running on 3 different hosts with HA and DRS enabled.  Mix of linux and windows boxes performing mainly EHR functions with some servers doing print, dc, dhcp, or spam filtering.

My plan is to add a physical server and SAN by the end of the year so that i may move the rest of the servers that can be moved, to a virtual environment.

As for VMWare, so far so good!  I have had to call tech support for various reasons, but nothing a little help couldn't fix and so far, no down time(boss is happy).