Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Into Microsoft's warm embrace

What's an IT manager to do? That was the question I asked myself when contemplating VMware, Microsoft server and hardware maintenance renewals.

At the time, VMware represented the best-performing and best-supported virtualization platform on the market. Our interest in server virtualization was not really about consolidation. Rather, our focus was disaster recovery. The ability to fire up a guest server on a different host in case of hardware failure was a compelling reason to move forward. Downtime, even for our small enterprise, was costly - several tens of thousands of dollars per hour. Being able to drag a running guest from one host to another was even better.

But boy was that VMware maintenance bill looking pretty ugly given our new budget. In the meantime Hyper-V improvements on Windows Server 2008 were garnering lots of headlines on the Internet. So I set out to explore my options.

From reviews and real-world experience, it seemed that Hyper-V had only about 80-to-90% of the performance of VMware ESX. But I could fix that with faster hardware. Since I had to renew our Windows Server licenses, I found that I could upgrade to Enterprise level and gain four "free" server guest licenses per Enterprise license. So I did the math.

  • Step 1: upgrade our newest server (2 x Xeon E5320 quad-core CPUs, 16GB RAM) 32GB more RAM and Windows Server Ent 2008. Cost $2,700.
  • Step 2: buy two new servers, 2 x Xeon E5320 quad-core CPUs, 48GB RAM, Windows Server Ent 2008. Cost $14,400.
  • Step 3: buy System Center Virtual Machine Manager for $800.

This would give me three very capable hardware hosts, twelve Windows Server Std guest licenses and a management console for $17,900. The existing server still had two years on its maintenance contract and the two new servers would have three years. A potential 20% performance hit didn't look appealing, but we had far fewer users and the performance of the new servers would be a substantial improvement.

First year cost savings would be about $3,000 and cost savings for the next four years would average out to more than $8,000 per year. The second year-savings would buy me another Hyper-V host, improving my redundancy while only reducing the annual savings in years three through five by $2,000. Over five years the savings would be more than $21,000. I had the CFO's attention.

It was an easy choice. And to be honest, it's worked out well from a performance, management and cost perspective.

Cost saving was fun. What other bridges could I cross?