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Q&A: Christopher Crowhurst discusses Thomson Reuters' massive virtualization initiative

Increase in storage utilization will pay for server virtualization projects, chief architect says

May 26, 2009 01:01 AM ET

Computerworld - Information provider Thomson Reuters is massive on any IT scale. The company, which employees 50,000 people in 91 countries, has 20,000 servers and has been growing its 6.5 petabytes of data storage capacity 40% to 50% annually and its data center power consumption by 20% a year.

The company, which provides information to the financial, legal, regulatory, healthcare and scientific marketplaces, was looking at building a new data center every two and a half years to keep up with growth. Its three data centers in Eagan, Minn. are using a total of 7.5 megawatts of power annually, so much electricity that the city of Egan was asking Thomson Reuters to pay them to upgrade the electrical supply grid.

Christopher Crowhurst, Thomson Reuters's vice president and chief architect of Architecture & Business Systems Infrastructure, said the company came up with a plan to double data storage utilization from 30% now to 60% by using virtualization and thin provisioning technology from NetApp Inc., and to use the capital expenditure savings from that project to fund a server virtualization project using VMware aimed at transitioning roughly one-third, or 7,500, of the company's servers to virtual machines.

Crowhurst spoke to Computerworld about the project. The following are excerpts from that interview.

Over time, how much growth in your data centers have you experienced? Over the past five years, we've had 780% growth in storage, 450% growth in servers and 350% growth in power consumption. We're trying to bring down the power consumption growth rate to an annual rate of 13%.

How are you going to do that? When you do all this consolidation work, in effect you're recovering megawatts through the virtualization of existing assets. Then, over the next 2 years, we'll also be avoiding a megawatt of power growth through virtualization of growth assets [future server purchases]. The net effect of this project is that within 30 to 36 months, we will have saved a year's worth of growth.

How far along are you on the virtualization project? The conversion of physical servers to virtual is due to run until the end of next year. We're currently running at 140% of plan, so we're going to complete early. We're going to keep the project going, though. Because the project is funded by the storage optimization, as long as we're recovering capital from that, we can continue to virtualize our server environment. The reality is that the project will never end because the growth side of our technology platforms will continue to drive virtualization. I think what we'll eventually start doing is extend this into a private cloud and move to do some self-provisioning for our business units as we get more confident with the management tools in these virtual environments.

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