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Cirba jumpstarts firm's server consolidation project

Mentor Graphics plans to undergo a server consolidation project with the help of software vendor Cirba so that it can save on space, and reduce power and cooling costs.

An electronic software design company, faced with server sprawl, knew it needed to do a server consolidation project but didn't know where to start.

Mentor Graphics Group, based in Wilsonville, Ore., is running out of data center space. The company has 10 business units spread across 70 sites throughout the world. One site has already run out of space, said Rich Monahan, director of IT engineering services. Another site has no more power available for its data center.

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"My main problem was simply the one-to-one correspondence between a server and a service," Monahan said. "If I needed a DNS service, I would have one DNS server."

Mentor has thousands of servers in its IT infrastructure, but Monahan decided to examine 150 servers within a single business unit. Most of the units consist of x86 Dell servers running Windows or various distributions of Linux. It also has a bunch of legacy Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) and Sun Microsystems Inc. Unix servers. Taking a look, the IT department knew it had to mix server consolidation and virtualization to cut energy and space costs. But it wasn't sure how.

"We were asking ourselves well before we got started on this: 'How would we know we were done? How would we know what success would look like?' "

After doing some research on the Web, Monahan called Cirba Inc. an Ontario-based company that helps businesses recognize server consolidation and virtualization opportunities. Cirba's Data Center Intelligence software, an upgrade which was released in January, maps the servers, operating systems and applications in your data center infrastructure, revealing a clear view of where your hardware is not being optimized. From there, it suggests ways to consolidate and virtualize.

Compatibility between applications is ranked on the visual scorecard in terms of red, yellow and green, giving data center managers an easy way to visualize what servers fit best together.

Andrew Hillier, Cirba's co-founder and chief technology office (CTO), said that Data Center Intelligence looks at servers' peak workloads and when they occur to ensure that consolidation won't lead to server shutdowns because of CPU overload. The product, he said, can safely recommend the consolidation of two servers that other assessment tools would not because it recognizes that the servers' peak workloads happen at different times.

Server consolidation service, not software

But Monahan wasn't looking to buy Data Center Intelligence.

"They sell software for a living and didn't really have a consulting offering," Monahan said. "I didn't want to learn how to use the software. I wanted them to use it on my environment and tell me what to do. They kept asking, 'Well, when are you going to buy something?' and my thing was I wanted to buy consulting services."

Eventually, Mentor and Cirba came to a consulting agreement, the pricing details of which Monahan didn't share.

Since Mentor's main issue was with space and power constraints, Cirba's solution was to consolidate the 150 servers down to about 45 by migrating the Windows and Red Hat Inc. Linux on to new Dell Inc. servers running VMware virtualization software. The Unix servers would be combined to run on new Sun servers running Solaris and VMware.

The result could be hundreds of thousands of dollars saved every year in costs for power and cooling, and software licensing, although Monahan hasn't put a specific figure to it yet.

Aside from power and cooling savings, Monahan said there are still a lot of unanswered questions. For example, how long will Mentor be able to go without buying new server hardware once it is able to free up servers through consolidation? What impact will consolidation have on Mentor's IT staff?

But these are all hypothetical situations, as Mentor hasn't yet started the process of consolidation.

"We haven't done anything yet. because I had to step back and start planning how I would approach it," Monahan said. "I'm still in the very early stages of organizing this project. We haven't implemented anything that they suggested. But the biggest impact there would come from facility costs."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Mark Fontecchio, News Writer.

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