ACMA builds Xen-based private cloud

ACMA builds Xen-based private cloud

The effort of getting a private cloud right the first time will pay back in spades

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has built a private cloud in three months, choosing Citrix’s XenServer virtualisation hypervisor over the incumbent VMware ESX.

ACMA’s original roadmap set out in CIO Carsten Larsen’s business transformation program was to standardise on Microsoft’s Hyper-V, but XenServer came out on top following evaluation. Deputy CIO, Karl Maftoum, joined ACMA in April to spearhead the private cloud project, which is a cornerstone of the change program.

“I did the implementation of XenServer and it is extremely good value for money for us and it had the credentials in the hypervisor space,” Maftoum said. “The issue we had with ESX was the price. It is a good product, but in terms of value for money XenServer was the price point we were looking for.”

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XenServer beat out Hyper-V on price and suitability. The project kicked off in May and the software and hardware was complete by mid-June. ACMA engaged with Citrix for the migration and the bulk of the virtual machines were completed by mid-August.

ACMA’s private cloud consists of 88 virtual machines running across six high-end, quad-core Dell servers. The agency uses about 55 virtual machines in production and 33 for testing.

“Pretty much the whole agency runs on XenServer, including SharePoint, Exchange and other critical infrastructure. The only things still on physical servers are the applications we can’t virtualise,” Maftoum said.

The project also included disaster recovery (DR) and the SAN is being used to replicate virtual machines to another XenServer farm in Melbourne.

“Implementing a virtual infrastructure has given us a lot of flexibility so we can now provision servers in minutes rather than weeks,” Maftoum said. “We do refer to it as a private cloud — the ‘ACMA cloud’.

“We can deploy services quickly and we are more responsive to internal clients. Now we do everything entirely virtually and it makes our DR strategy extremely straightforward.”

The team spent a lot of time using Citrix and third-party migration tools to get the physical-to-virtual (P2V) transfers done correctly.

“We have [guest] server templates and put a lot of effort getting it right since every server is a little but different,” Maftoum said. “We went from about 15 virtual machines to 88, including a lot of P2V migrations.”

ACMA has been able to shut down more than a 20 physical servers and Windows 2008 R2 is the standard guest operating system. Maftoum said the Linux-based XenServer hypervisor performs “extremely well”, hosting Windows server quests with between 15 and 20 virtual machines per physical host.

“There are no issues with the load on the machines and we will add more machines to expand our virtual infrastructure,” he said. “The management tools are good. We have found them extensive and useful. A lot of the ESX project work like templates was brought over to XenServer. ACMA works closely with Microsoft at different levels and Maftoum said it received strong support for running on XenServer.

“Xen has a level of maturity in the Linux space. Citrix is adding support around it and that is a good strategy. I can’t speak highly enough of it.”

Maftoum said the cost saving between ESX and XenServer was “substantial” at about half the price.

“We’re now expanding the pool even further. The great advantage for us is to be agile in the delivery of projects. We’re moving away from projects owning physical infrastructure,” he said. “It has become IaaS but, unlike a public cloud, we maintain full control over the infrastructure.”

The requirement to deliver services and has underpinned the entire transformation program and without this level of private cloud it would be “difficult to deliver other services”.

“It has worked well for us and I hope other agencies will take a look at it,” he said, adding there haven’t been any problems with the cloud in the time it has been operating.

“If you put the effort into getting a private cloud right the first time it will pay you back in spades. And it doesn’t have to be a drawn-out process.”

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