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IT migration case study: Partner helps downsize data center

HighVail, an IT consulting and professional services firm, helped Empire Life downsize its data center, migrate business applications and create a new disaster recovery site.

While moving apps to the cloud has become commonplace, it's not the only IT migration game in town.

Indeed, on-premises data center consolidation and IT migration projects continue to provide work for channel partners. That's proven to be the case for HighVail Systems Inc., an IT consulting and professional services company based in Toronto, which has been helping its client, Empire Life, move its core business systems from multiple, aging Solaris servers to a consolidated hardware environment built around a single Fujitsu server.

Empire Life, an insurance company with headquarters in Kingston, Ont., had been operating four racks of SPARC gear to run the company's business, transaction processing and administrative systems. But the technology was ripe for an overhaul. Jeff Babcock, manager of IT infrastructure and security at Empire Life, said he wanted to move the company's apps to hardware with more processing power, simplify the management of systems and downsizing the data center.

And the company wanted to achieve those objectives without having to rewrite its applications. The insurance company's legacy applications posed a particular challenge. Massive recoding was deemed unfeasible.

Jeff Babcock, manager of IT infrastructure and security, Empire Life Jeff Babcock

Babcock said the idea "of rewriting the application and porting it to VMware, for instance, or some virtualized x86 solution, is just not very practical or hugely expensive."

Empire Life's strategy: Containerize its SPARC applications and move them to a new hardware environment. The insurer opted to use Oracle Solaris Containers to perform that task. Containers, a virtualization technique, can address application portability issues and help avoid recoding.

An Oracle representative helped the Empire Life determine that Fujitsu's M10 server series would be a good choice to run the containerized applications, Babcock noted. Oracle and Fujitsu collaborate on SPARC technology, with Oracle selling Fujitsu servers in North America. With the hardware selection wrapped up, HighVail took over the project, assisting with the deployment's final sizing.

Our technical resources and project manager worked with the client to implement repeatable processes to ensure that the migrations were a success.
Doug Buingersenior account manager, HighVail

"We analyzed the utilization of the current servers, and, based on that, we determined how densely we could pack that into the M10 based on CPU usage, memory usage and network throughput," said Doug Buinger, senior account manager at HighVail.

In addition to sizing, HighVail also provided configuration and integration services for the deployment and also helped with the containerizing of the existing applications to ready them for the IT migration.

Repeatable processes help with IT migration

HighVail then managed the IT migration logistics, using its Datacentre Transformation Methodology to manage the project and mitigate the risk during the change.

Doug Buinger, senior account manager, HighVailDoug Buinger

"Our technical resources and project manager worked with the client to implement repeatable processes to ensure that the migrations were a success," Buinger said. "In each case, we prepped, implemented and tested with our client to ensure that the migration was completed according to their requirements. Naturally, we tweaked the processes when there was an opportunity to improve what we were doing."

HighVail collaborated with Empire Life to make sure the processes were aligned with the insurer's goals.

"Once these processes are in place, implementation and testing can be done more quickly and efficiently," Buinger said.

At the end of the IT migration, Empire Life was able to consolidate Solaris 8, 9 and 10 servers on one Fujitsu M10-1 server with a SPARC64X processor. While the previous infrastructure had taken up four racks in the data center, the Fujitsu server now consumes 1 U of rack space.

Follow-up work

HighVail's repeatable processes have put the company in "an excellent position to expand on this framework for future implementations," according to Buinger.

The company is currently taking that tack in a follow-up project at Empire Life, where it has been helping the insurer move to a new disaster recovery site. The site, which also employs a 1 U M10, is running in a disaster recovery test environment and will move into production in April, Babcock explained. HighVail is also assisting with replication, which is built around the ZFS file system that Empire Life uses for Solaris.

ZFS' feature set includes snapshot and other capabilities that support backup and disaster recovery, Babcock said. The new disaster recovery site will save Empire Life $20,000 annually compared with its previous arrangement, in which the company worked with a disaster recovery vendor that provided on-demand, shared hardware.

While the Empire Life project is wrapping up, HighVail can point to other Solaris customers working through legacy systems and application porting issues.

"We have a number of customers that are doing similar downsizing," Buinger said.

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