UST Global's expansion plans were threatened by a datacenter that had hit its power ceiling. Until IT came up with a two-pronged strategy and saved the day.
The Organization: UST Global is an IT services and business process outsourcing provider, headquartered out of Aliso Viejo, California, whose clients include Global 1000 companies. In 2010, the company's executives foresaw the need for greater growth. The Business Challenge: To keep pace with that growth, UST Global, which runs its largest datacenter out of Trivandrum, realized it needed to ramp up its IT infrastructure. That, however, was easier said than done. To keep pace with the demands of the business, the IT organization would need to provision for 800 servers over a three-year period; a substantial jump over the 120 servers it ran out of the Trivandrum datacenter in 2010. "We needed a large number of servers to cater to our immediate requirements and our future needs," remembers Rinosh Kurian, enterprise architect, UST Global.
In the way of that plan was the cost of those servers. At about $5,000 (about Rs 2.7 lakh) a pop, the additional 800 servers would put UST Global back by $4 million--way beyond the $2 million it had allocated for the expansion project. But costs apart, the expansion project was doomed by another constraint: A power limitation. According to Kurian, at that time, the Trivandrum datacenter had a power capacity of 70 KW, all of which was already being consumed by 120 servers. It had an additional 74 KW but that was meant to cool the datacenter. "We had established datacenters around 2004, and by 2010, we were at full capacity in terms of power and cooling although we still had space," says Kurian.
There was simply no way Kurian could bring in 800 more servers into the datacenter and still stay under the power ceiling. The Project: Kurian looked at the challenge from multiple angles and came up with two-pronged strategy. If he could combine virtualization, more power-friendly servers, and smarter storage solutions, he'd be able to kick the problem. On paper, the plan looked like a winner, but Kurian decided to move forward carefully. "We started with procuring a leading virtualization provider's solution, and deploying it on our existing systems first." Then he pulled out some of the older servers, which had reached end-of-life, and replaced them with more power-friendly servers, a process that Kurian remembers was "a nightmare from a management perspective."
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"This allowed us to provision within our power and cooling capacity," says Kurian. UST Global also needed to ramp up its storage requirements. Once again, using his old approach wouldn't allow Kurian to scale up and still stay within the datacenter's power constraints. To work around the challenge, Kurian invested in a storage solution which allowed him to increase UST Global's storage capacity, and simultaneously optimize power consumption. Today, 70 percent of the Trivandrum datacenter's 200 TB storage capacity is made up of low-speed drives. The rest are high speed (15K rpm) drives. Because the low-speed drives consume less power, the new storage solution uses 4KW of power in total--versus 12 KW, if he had used the old approach. "The advantage of this combination (of storage drives) is that it allows the storage solution itself to move 'less-used' data from higher speed drives to lower speed drives," says Kurian.
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The Benefits: The project achieved what it set out to do: Allow UST Global to grow substantially--and stay within its datacenter's power constraints. Currently, UST Global operates around 1,000 virtual servers on 20 physical servers, which draw a total of 8 KW. Kurian says that a corollary benefit they were looking to achieve through virtualization was to use storage replication to replicate the company's Trivandrum datacenter in Chennai. Today, in the event of a disaster at its Trivandrum datacenter, UST Global can be up and running from its Chennai datacenter within 60 minutes--from a time when it used to take a day to get everything functional. It also armed UST Global with more efficiency. Thanks to the project, UST Global's customers can request for additional server infrastructure and get it within an hour, from about five weeks earlier. Finally, Kurian didn't have to spend all the $2 million that was allocated to the project; his project cost $1.8 million. More power to him.
Eric Ernest is a correspondent for CIO India and ComputerWorld India. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org