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Bank scores with server virtualization

Gunjan Trivedi | Dec. 17, 2008
ICICI Bank's IT team, led by Vohra, has used virtualization to arrest an electronic infrastructure spill-over at its datacenters.

The problem wasn't new. Though the problem piled up over time, the bank's IT team had only experimented with different technologies from time to time to seek an effective solution. But a couple of years ago, they started looking at a solution in earnest. "We found an embryo of a solution that we believed could work and improve over time to adequately arrest server, rack and power sprawl. We considered it to be workable enough to start dabbling with. It was a struggle for us," recalls Vohra.

Vohra refers to a two-year-ago old initiative that was fundamentally concentrated on server consolidation. Over the last year, the scope of the project has expanded to include other infrastructure consolidation, and an overall focus to reduce the bank's carbon footprint. But it's been a journey of discovery, he admits. "We can't take credit for scripting a story to a design principle. We found a way as we discovered new things and worked with different technologies. The idea was to improve our IT management capabilities and to reduce power and cooling consumption. It's about working around a theory of constraints," he says.

School of Hardknocks

Vohra formed a core team of 12 who were part of the NT admin team in the shared services vertical that takes care of the bank's datacenters. The team ran a few proof-of-concepts, and started by virtualizing environments that were lower on the showstopper scale.

Vohra points out that out of the 650 applications, there are about 200 applications, which nobody would even notice if they were shutdown for a day. For example, a one-day outage of applications such as ATM cash analysis or dead-stock inventory MIS generation would not raise any eyebrows.

But as the team started testing in live and more critical environments, they set high-water marks for the thresholds of running applications in a virtualized ecosystem. About 14 months ago, the team managed to run about 51 virtual machines on a single physical server. "We were trying to figure out what we were running out of: compute resources, I/O bandwidth or memory? We'd take say a server of 4-CPUs with 8-cores, running Windows and run a mixed load of applications on 51 virtual machines. Not only did we break Sun Microsystem's record of running 50 VMs on a server but we topped it. We touched a figure of 60 virtual machines on a single server. Of course, we later determined the optimal threshold at about 35 virtual machines," says Vohra.

As the proof-of-concepts succeeded, turnaround times for the project were defined, allotted and rolled out. The turnaround times for the identification and redressal of problems were monitored closely. "With technology, it is very easy to say that something doesn't work. It is much harder to make it work. Obviously, it takes effort to make something hard work. But the problem in such cases, is that you don't know what you are going to do but you discover what you need to do. You do it and take the next step," he says.

 

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