news Internet banking brand ING Direct revealed this week that it had upgraded its server infrastructure to the latest version 2012 of Microsoft’s Windows Server operating system and further standardised on the vendor’s Hyper-V solution, as the bank’s enthusiasm for Microsoft’s server stack continues to grow at the cost of virtualisation rival VMware.
In March this year ING Direct announced it had deployed a private cloud infrastructure stack based on technology from Microsoft as well as hardware partners Cisco and NetApp. The technology was used by the bank to deliver a whole-of-banking system development and testing environment for its development team. Essentially the bank created a complete mirror of its core banking platform and associated systems that could be rapidly provisioned. At the time, the platform was based on Windows Server 2008 R2.
In a new case study published by Microsoft this week (the document is available online in Word format), the bank revealed that it had upgraded its platform and further standardised on Microsoft’s virtualisation solution; which currently constitutes the main rival to VMware’s dominant platform in corporate environments. ING Direct has also deployed Microsoft’s Systems Center 2012 management platform.
“As of June 2012, ING Direct had more servers than employees—about 1,100 across two datacentres,” the case study states. “The good news was that 90 percent of those servers were virtualised—half using VMware software and half using the Hyper-V virtualization technology included in the Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system. Still, the company’s datacentre servers were vastly underutilised.”
“We have a very traditional infrastructure, which is to say all of our hardware is overprovisioned,” Wesley Naidoo, enterprise technical architect at ING said. “Even though we were virtualised, all of our production, test, and development servers were dedicated to a single purpose and workload, and if they weren’t being used at the moment, the servers were idle.”
The case study added: “The company’s second datacentre served as a disaster recovery location, and it was full of servers that sat idle most of the time. While this second location provided ING Direct with redundancy in the event of a disaster, the IT staff essentially had to provision duplicate servers for most new applications, which was time consuming and expensive.”
Another issue was the company’s use of Microsoft virtualisation rival VMware, with the Microsoft case study stating that although the bank had originally standardised on VMware, its ‘bank in a box’ private cloud deployment using Microsoft’s Hyper-V software had led it to feel that it should be using the Microsoft technology more.
“We were very impressed with Hyper-V in our development and test environment,” Naidoo said. “We felt we were doing a disservice to the organization by not making greater use of Hyper-V. When Dimension Data and a Microsoft representative talked to us about participating in the Rapid Deployment Program [RDP] for Windows Server 2012, we were very excited. We knew that the new Hyper-V release had some significant advances that could help close the gap between it and VMware. We also wanted to evaluate Hyper-V Replica for multisite replication and use the RDP as a springboard for broader modernisation efforts.”
The bank set up a proof of concept environment using two Cisco UCS B230 blade servers running the Datacenter edition of Windows Server 2012, and created a number of Hyper-V virtual machines to test the setup. A HP ProLiant DL380 server was also added in to its disaster recovery location for testing.
According to the Microsoft case study, one feature that “greatly impressed” ING Direct during its testing was Hyper-V Replica, which provides asynchronous replication of virtual machines across different storage subsystems and across sites to provide business continuity. “We haven’t seen a capability like this included in any other product,” Naidoo said. “Hyper-V Replica does not require special licensing, specialized hardware, or other costs. We have many workloads that need a disaster recovery capability, and Hyper-V Replica is the perfect way to cost-effectively protect low-tier to middle-tier workloads.”
During the RDP, ING Direct used Hyper-V Replica to create a replica of a production workload in the disaster recovery site—and then forgot about it. Later, there was a problem with a production cluster that ran this particular workload. When the IT staff went to check on the service, it was working smoothly; Hyper-V Replica had automatically transferred the workload to the disaster recovery location. “When we saw this, we were stunned,” Ghali says. “We had forgotten that we had set up the replica and were thrilled that the workload had been protected. The employee using the service didn’t even realize that his workload had moved over to the other location; it was completely transparent.”
ING Direct also evaluated and will be using the following Windows Server 2012 features: Hyper-V live migration (which supports simultaneous virtual machine migrations with no downtime, in and outside a cluster); Transparent failover; Storage Spaces (a feature which enables ING Direct to use industry-standard storage); Network Interface Card (NIC) Teaming; and the Server Core installation option.
The bank is also working with Dimension Data to deploy System Center 2012, which provides datacentre management capabilities. “We’ve already used System Center 2012 Configuration Manager to migrate from the Windows XP to the Windows 7 operating system, and we are ecstatic about it,” says Tom Hsu, Wintel Systems Engineer at ING Direct. “We will be soon using the Virtual Machine Manager component. We have a road map that will eventually have us taking advantage of all the capabilities of System Center 2012.”
ING Direct is currently running several production workloads on Windows Server 2012 and is in the process of upgrading all its servers to the latest operating system. “We’re waiting for a chance to look at how System Center 2012 and Windows Server 2012 work together, but we’re quite confident of the ability to switch our entire virtualised environment to Hyper-V,” Naidoo said in the Microsoft case study.
In terms of the benefits accruing from the implementation, the bank expects to be able to trim its datacentre costs, as well as extending high availability to more workloads and reducing disaster recovery time “from hours to minutes”.
By taking advantage of the capabilities built into Windows Server 2012 and the management efficiencies provided by System Center 2012, ING Direct expects to improve IT service efficiencies by 20 percent in the near term. “We can automate and orchestrate everything that we need to do with this platform,” Naidoo said. “It frees our people to work on core projects that benefit the business. Deploying virtual machines is about 60 percent faster with Windows Server 2012; building a cluster has gone from three or four days to one day. Combining these efficiencies with the server consolidation benefits provided by Cisco UCS blade servers and Hyper-V, we could double or triple our datacentre consolidation and savings down the road.”
In addition, the bank expects to save a significant amount of money from migrating off VMware’s platform.
“These savings can be significant for our business,” Naidoo adds. “The more we can remove costs from operations and put the savings into value-generating work, the more successful the business will be. By standardising on Hyper-V, we will derive more value from our Microsoft Enterprise Agreement and simplify our technology portfolio. This provides the ability to reinvest our valuable time and resources into finding unique opportunities to create exceptional service for our customers.”
The bank also claimed of the most significant benefits to ING Direct’s management was the human factor of keeping the company’s technology on the cutting edge. “We’re techies at heart,” says Naidoo. “We get a lot of satisfaction working with cool technology, and our staff has a real appreciation for fine craft. By upgrading to Windows Server 2012, our staff will be working with some first-rate technology and be able to do some very innovative things. It’s a key reason why people stay with us. We want to make sure we’re investing in our people, and they reciprocate by giving us great work.”
The news comes as Microsoft has been making rapid inroads into the Australian virtualisation market against arch-rival VMware, revealing a number of new local customers over the past few months. In August it was engineering services company Norfolk Group who revealed plans to adopt Hyper-V, in May clothing and homewares manufacturer Pacific Brands reveals plans to make the switch, and major organisations including Coles and the NSW Department of Education have also adopted the Microsoft platform.
However, VMware remains the dominant player in Australia’s virtualisation market, and has recently pleased customers by abandoning its unpopular memory-based licensing model, which had been criticised by local customers.
Microsoft is really sticking the knife into VMware in Australia at the moment. ING Direct, Coles, the NSW Department of Education … these are not small organisations, and they all appear to be very positive about Hyper-V. I’m sure VMware remains the overwhelming dominant player, and certainly I don’t think Hyper-V has anywhere near the full suite of features which VMware’s solutions offer; but I also have to say that I personally wouldn’t like to have Microsoft as a challenger in my market. Microsoft usually tends to move from ‘challenger’ to ‘dominant player’ fairly quickly in any market it gets serious about; and it currently seems very serious about the virtualisation market indeed.