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Private clouds? A walk in the park

Parks Victoria recently implemented virtualisation technology to build a private cloud for its e-business suite upgrade, saving the agency hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process
Parks Victoria’s enterprise architecture and application support manager Willem Popp

Parks Victoria’s enterprise architecture and application support manager Willem Popp

With a jurisdiction that covers nearly 4 million hectares, Parks Victoria is the central authority in Victoria for the management of natural areas across the state.

The information systems requirements at Parks Victoria were becoming increasingly demanding, and a recent implementation of a virtualised private cloud has set the stage for rapid growth.

Willem Popp, Parks Victoria’s enterprise architecture and application support manager, says the impetus for the infrastructure overhaul stemmed from an upgrade of Oracle’s e-business suite of applications. Parks Victoria runs an e-business suite with 19 modules, Hyperion for analytics and another 25 to 30 business applications.

“We started a reimplementation of e-business products to [Oracle] R12, as we were on R11 and couldn’t upgrade,” Popp says.

Despite its breadth of coverage, Parks Victoria has a modest IT department with about 25 people, nine of whom work on applications. The IT organisation supports Parks Victoria operations in 120 sites (with some 1100 employees) and uses upwards of 50 business systems -- everything from CRM to geographic information.

In addition to the software upgrade, Popp and the team, headed by CIO Peter Watson, took the opportunity to virtualise all of the core hardware systems. “We expanded the footprint and went from 11 modules to 19,” Popp says. “The old system had four servers and then grew to 16 physical machines.”

The initial request in the upgrade project was for 16 physical machines, but IT ended up procuring four physical machines, each with four virtual machines. “Now we have more than 35 virtual machines as another 20 have been brought in from other parts of the business,” Popp says, adding the IT group is now looking at growing the virtual server count even more.

This ability to add applications in virtual infrastructure from different parts of the business now forms the basis of Parks Victoria’s private cloud. The two-year project went live in November last year, with Dell providing the hardware.

Popp says Parks Victoria is “small enough” to use both private or public clouds and that the architecture is consistent with the CIO’s vision of a virtualised environment. Parks Victoria’s private cloud now runs on Oracle VM hypervisor (based on Xen), which Popp says is easier for the internal IT team to support.

“I was sceptical at first, as it was a bleeding edge technology,” Popp says about being one of the first organisations to run Oracle’s latest applications in a virtual environment. “It has been brilliant in terms of flexibility,” he says. “We have the equivalent of one-and-a-half people working on it and they manage it themselves.”

Oracle VM supports both Oracle’s Enterprise Linux and the more prevalent Red Hat Enterprise Linux as “guest” operating systems, but Popp says the decision to go with Oracle’s Linux distribution paid off.

“We are happy with Oracle’s Linux product and it’s virtually identical to Red Hat,” he says.

So far the economics of the private cloud project have resulted in Parks Victoria freeing up enough funds to hire additional IT staff.

“I was going to go from $300,000 to $500,000, but I was able to cut $400,000 from the budget and hire another database administrator for $100,000,” Popp says.

“It’s like a private cloud and the flexibility is good. We can move virtual machines around easily and the management tools are good and easy to use, even for a DBA who was trained 10 years ago.”

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