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With IBM blades and VMware, firm shrinks data center footprint, cost

After dumping nearly 100 HP and Compaq servers in favor of IBM BladeCenter servers running VMware, a real estate firm slashed costs, data center footprint and management headaches.

Cherry Hill, N.J.-based real estate, mortgage and title insurance company Prudential Fox & Roach ripped out its 93 Hewlett-Packard Co. ProLiant servers and replaced them with IBM blade servers running VMware Inc.'s virtualization technology to reduce space requirements, cut power and cooling costs, and make data center management easier.

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Until a few years ago, the real estate company's technology was warehoused in a colocation facility with 17 racks of about 93 HP and Compaq servers. The cost of hosting and maintaining all those racks of servers, along with the company's website hosting, was about $40,000 a month, said William Friemann, Prudential's VP of operations and compliance officer.

When those HP boxes neared the end of their lifecycle, Friemann evaluated blade servers from Dell, HP and IBM and was most impressed with the latter. He adopted an IBM BladeCenter chassis and started playing around with VMware virtualization software. The combination of these two technologies allowed Friemann to consolidate servers, move to a smaller space and reduce the company's IT operations costs, he said.

With that, in 2007 Friemann nixed the old racks, moved into a smaller data center and used the cost savings he budgeted to purchase three more IBM BladeCenter chassis. The new, smaller colocation facility space in Pennsylvania only costs the company $6,000 per month, and along with the savings in power and cooling, Friemann estimates the move to IBM and VMware will save Prudential at the very least, $60,000 a year.

"We didn't have a budget for new servers, so I figured we could use some of the money we saved in space to pay for them," Friemann said. "A lot of times, IT doesn't like to deal with budgets, but you have to, and you have to get creative sometimes to make things work."

The company now runs four BladeCenter H chassis in its central data center and a BladeCenter S chassis in a separate location to support all of the company's remote real estate offices. There are now over 60 VMs running on five VMware ESX hosts, used for tasks such as Active Directory controls, staging environments, and disaster recovery, and he uses VMware VirtualCenter for the majority of both physical and virtual machine management, he said.

The final piece of the puzzle was a storage equipment upgrade. Prudential used Sun Microsystems Inc. storage, but "Sun's SAN [storage area network] was a generation or two old and to gain access to shared drive we had to map it. We wanted to put financial software on the SAN for employees to access without having to map them through a server," Friemann said.

He switched to NetApp SAN to avoid the mapping issues. And because it was easy to purchase, directly through their IBM OEM, Friemann said.

Thanks to the consolidation project, and despite the slumping U.S. economy, Prudential's IT budget has not increased since 2006 and the cost reduction has freed enough money in the 2009 budget to purchase 17 additional IBM blades, which Friemann intends to do. Currently Prudential has just more than 40 IBM blade servers.

"I don't want to sound like I drink the Kool-Aid, and we love IBM so much. But we were impressed with the product, and we haven't had any issues at all," Friemann said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer. And check out our blogs at Server Farming, Mainframe Propellerhead, and Data Center Facilities Pro.

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