For Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. (M&M), its server virtualization efforts have been a journey to combat various issues, from cost to space utilization. This journey started with Mahindra & Mahindra's need to build a scalable infrastructure for itself as well as its group companies.
Over the years, M&M, the flagship company of Mahindra Group, has transformed itself into a group that caters to Indian as well as foreign markets. Today, the organization has business presence in vehicles, farm equipment, IT and infrastructure development. As a result, in 2007 Mahindra & Mahindra's IT team felt the need for scalable infrastructure to accommodate this business growth.
With the increasing need for scalability, cost reduction and SAP consolidation, Mahindra & Mahindra decided to set up a new green data center at Kandivali in Mumbai. At the time, Mahindra & Mahindra had a hosted setup at Reliance Data Center's Navi Mumbai facility, as well as an in-house data center at Kandivali (for its enterprise applications, such as SAP) in Mumbai.
The data center initiative's main business objective was to build up scalability for Mahindra & Mahindra as well as any group companies. "Cost was another factor that led to the decision. In addition, management had become quite cumbersome, since Reliance Data Center was hosting our servers." explains Vijay Mahajan, the
Driven by these needs, M&M decided to create its own service-oriented infrastructure on the lines of service-oriented architecture. This concept restricts itself to infrastructure synergy for different applications to traverse. Wipro Technologies was chosen as the data center's implementation partner. Server virtualization came in as an option at this time, since Mahindra & Mahindra wanted to take the green route for its new data center.
Work on M&M's data center started in late 2007. The new data center was complete in three months, and it went live in March 2008.
Once server virtualization was selected as the new data center's core driver, Mahindra & Mahindra's Center of Excellence evaluated various options. Server virtualization platforms such as Xen, Microsoft Hyper-V and VMware were evaluated, before the team zeroed in on VMware.
According to Mahajan, VMware was selected since it is a very robust solution and has a good management console. "VMware was expensive compared to Xen, which is freeware and offers an open platform. However, we found VMware to be a very robust platform." Yet another factor that influenced the choice was the simplicity of moving physical servers to VMware.
The new data center went live in March 2008, with VMware as the server virtualization platform. "We were able to create service-oriented infrastructure using VMware as an underlying layer for virtualization. Then we redeployed various applications which were earlier distributed across numerous hardware platforms on to a smaller subset of scalable hardware," says Prasad Patil, the manager of corporate IT at Mahindra & Mahindra. Avnet Technology Solutions assisted with the implementation.
Mahindra & Mahindra's server infrastructure currently has 80 virtual machines implemented on eight physical servers, in addition to various standalone servers. These eight physical servers include a disaster recovery (DR) server.
Three different VMware setups are in use at Mahindra & Mahindra. The first VMware setup consists of 12 SAP 4.6B servers running on a single enterprise-class server attached to a disk enclosure. Group websites that were earlier hosted at Reliance Data Center now run on seven virtual machines as part of the second setup.
Mahindra & Mahindra has a server replacement cycle of four to five years. Since the rollout of server virtualization, it has been able to redeploy obsolete physical servers on virtual machines on the third VMware setup. These three virtualized server setups are managed through a single console provided by VMware Control Center.
When Mahindra & Mahindra started its server virtualization journey two years back, the team faced challenges such as application conflicts. The most common setbacks on this front were backup issues. According to Patil, these have been solved by using two backup methodologies. The first approach uses EMC Corp.'s Legato clients on the virtual machines as a backup solution. Mahindra & Mahindra also uses EMC's Avamar, an appliance-based backup device that completely backs up the virtual machines.
Another major challenge for Mahindra & Mahindra was the use of databases on VMware. This challenge is more from a licensing perspective than a technical perspective. "Databases like Oracle do not recognize a virtual machine as a server. This is a problem since deploying these databases on a virtual machine increases our costs. So we are consciously not deploying databases on VMware," Mahajan says.
I/O intensive applications have been yet another challenge. Since Mahindra & Mahindra has not yet virtualized the network layer, all 12 SAP servers share the same I/O. This creates challenges when high I/O happens on certain applications. VMware's vSphere 4.0 has an integrated vSwitch that solves this problem, but it has yet to be deployed.
Today, Mahindra & Mahindra has been able to set up a high-availability DR infrastructure (local failover scenario), which has been made possible due to VMware. Tremendous savings have also been accrued in terms of power and management, as well as optimum server utilization.
"In a standalone server, the CPU utilization is at the most 20 percent. Due to virtualization, the utilization has gone up to 60 to 70 percent. Now, the physical server count has come down and management is easier since you are focusing on the solution through a single console. Besides, lesser the number of servers, lesser is the required power and cooling," Patil says.
The annual management cost (AMC) cost of old hardware has also come down substantially. Earlier, SAP archival data servers had to be maintained for seven to eight years, escalating the AMC of 13 servers along with the licenses. This cost gets eliminated when it is put on a single server. In addition, load balancing is easier now since more resources can be rapidly allocated to the virtual environment.
Looking into the future
Although SAP has been virtualized using local partitioning, Mahindra & Mahindra's IT mission for the near future is to deploy these applications with the same aggressiveness as VMware. This will maximize benefits from AIX-based virtualization.
This was first published in October 2009