Server consolidation to save Bell Mobility $200,000 annually

Network monitoring software from CiRBA helps Canadian wireless provider consolidate servers.

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Canadian wireless provider Bell Mobility plans to save about $200,000 per year on data center expenses: energy costs, licensing fees and service level agreements following the first phase of a gradual server consolidation.

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Bell Mobility operations support system manager Michel Tremblay said he aims to consolidate his division's 19 servers -- Sun 420s, 480s, 490s; older Ultrasparc-based midrange boxes; and some Dell machines -- down to six. The project represents about 10% of a larger data center server consolidation that will include hundreds of other underused boxes across the company, Tremblay said.

Mississauga, Ontario-based Bell Mobility, a division of Bell Canada, is in the upper tier of North American wireless providers, laying claim to about five million subscribers, as of June 2005.

Its consolidation plan branched from a company-wide initiative two years ago to implement a uniformed national backup process, in order to keep a tighter leash on network utilization and standards compliance. As more processes were to be documented and stored electronically, and as storage became more SAN -based as a result, the company wanted to apply change management and other subsets of ITIL in order to more thoroughly track and store information.

In order to do that, Bell needed more information to better assess everything on the network before returning to a decision on how to make a common process feasible, Tremblay said. The hunt began for network monitoring software, a search that ended after choosing CiRBA, Inc.'s Data Center Intelligence.

Also in Ontario, Richmond Hill-based CiRBA specializes in system configuration management. Think of its software like drawing blueprints to a house -- after it's built. It's main tool tracks, stores and reports on the configurations of hardware platforms, applications, operating environments and services. The allure lies in its ability to report in clearer terms this technical information, presenting it in a way that applies to business decisions, such as server utilization (am I wasting resources?) and workload compatibility (are my applications running as best they could?).

CiRBA and Bell would not comment specifically, but CiRBA said many of its implementations cost between $200,000 and $250,000.

Tremblay said he used CiRBA to get a complete inventory of the network -- to figure out what was where and why -- and when he finished fetching statistics, the consolidation seemed logical.

"We looked at how many servers we needed to back up, and we said 'you know we could really save a lot of money if we could consolidate those servers,' " Tremblay said, adding that fewer boxes also means quicker backup speed. "With the CiRBA tool, we were able to see which servers we could merge without [taking anything offline]."

Tony Lock, research director at Sageza, Ltd., said human error and nebulous bookkeeping have been acknowledged by the IT industry, which is leaning heavier towards electronic documentation. The trend will certainly carve a deeper niche for companies in the monitoring space like CiRBA, CA Inc., BMC Software Inc. and others, according to Lock.

"IT is becoming the heart of most businesses," Lock said. "Being able to show that what you're running is optimized, is absolutely essential. You can't do it on man power alone."

For replacement servers to consolidate on, Tremblay is looking at Sun Fire E2900s, which Sun markets as being well -suited for database and Web serving needs.

"[The E2900] is more of an enterprise box, and everything is hot- swappable," Tremblay said, attributing staying with Sun to reliable hardware releases, as well as staff familiarity. "We've been using Sun for quite some time. We always look at what we need, and we don't have to use them, but they always have one of the best offerings on the market. And my team is pretty knowledgeable. It's all about the expertise. With HP [Hewlett Packard Co.] boxes or something else, we'd have to rely mainly on the supplier [for training and support], but right now we don't have to because we know it."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Joe Spurr, News Writer

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