Virtual Infrastructure Can Offset Challenging Manufacturing Environments

June 10, 2008
Virtualization saves on energy costs and aid in disaster recovery.

Deploying a virtual infrastructure offers universal benefits that appeal to businesses across all industries but even more so for manufacturing firms.

Simply stated, a virtual platform allows companies to consolidate between five and ten physical servers into one physical server. This architecture makes it easier to maintain servers since there are far fewer to monitor. It's also much easier to roll-out new servers to develop a new application or to support a new business function. Fewer servers also means reduced overall energy costs for power and cooling and reduced requirements for the size of data centers so that companies can allocate this valuable space to other functions. Virtualization also streamlines the disaster recovery process, making it much easier to restore operations if a server crashes.

The benefits of virtualization also extend to the desktop, where virtualization makes it much easier and more cost-effective to roll-out new applications and provide software patches. These functions can be managed from a central location rather than having the IT staff physically visit each PC. Furthermore, with virtualization, users can share CPUs. Instead of giving each user their own desktop computer, multiple users can access one desktop via dumb terminals. But from the user's perspective, it's the same as though they are using their own PC -- they still have their private desktop environment that other users do not have access to.

A virtual infrastructure can be particularly beneficial in the manufacturing industry due to the environments that typically exist inside a manufacturing facility. More dust is floating around, and there may be other air-born chemicals that tend to shorten the life of servers and desktops. These environmental conditions mean that manufacturing firms usually have to replace their computers more often than non-manufacturing firms. But by reducing the overall number of required computers, virtualization offers significant cost savings.

At Transplace, we first considered converting our computer network to a virtual environment in 2007. The decision came in conjunction with our plans to move our production environment to a co-location facility, and it was also time to refresh our server hardware. We also wanted to maintain our reliable disaster recovery process while adding more flexibility to deploy multiple environments. This includes test and development as well as customer user-acceptance, sales demo and load-testing environments.

We felt that a virtual infrastructure would provide us with all of these attributes and at a more reasonable cost than a new physical infrastructure. We first thought of virtualization when considering a tiered storage strategy and a disaster recovery plan across multiple environments. We determined virtualization would help us move data quickly to the right storage source depending on our needs. We also realized virtualization would make it easier to deploy redundancy in our production environment along with the horsepower to run disaster recovery and other environments. Additionally, because virtualization reduces the number of CPUs we need, it would also help us manage the cost of our CPU-based Oracle licenses. This was a critical factor since licensing costs grow even more so when creating a near real-time disaster recovery center. When a near real-time data copy is used in disaster recovery, Oracle requires the same licensing model on both sides.

By reducing the overall number of CPUs we needed to purchase, the VMware virtual environment we deployed saved us significantly. We also discovered that IBM POWER6 servers combined with the AIX operating system would allow us to deploy fewer but faster processors at the database tier. This allowed us to further lower our Oracle licensing costs. Virtualization also let us configure our disaster recovery environment so that while we run test and development environments, we can also run smaller Oracle partitions. If we want to conduct load testing, we just reconfigure the development partitions for true load testing. If we have to run a disaster recovery process, we can use the whole box to run production.

The benefits we have derived at Transplace are ones that just about any business in any industry can also benefit from. But in the manufacturing industry, the benefits go even deeper. If your environment forces you to replace all of your servers at an accelerated rate, you're much better off consolidating servers through a virtual infrastructure. You can reduce the number of servers you need to regularly replace by as much as 5-10 times compared to a physical infrastructure.

Vincent Biddlecombe is the CTO of Transplace, which is a non-asset based third-party logistics (3PL) provider offering manufacturers and retailers the optimal blend of logistics technology and transportation management services.

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