Virtualization reduces physical footprint by up to 50 times
Three years ago ING decided to radically change its data center approach. Goal was to increase efficiency and to offer more flexibility into the infrastructure in order to facilitate its data center customers with platforms that best match the service levels they have set for their applications. For assistance in this project ING turned to the VCE Coalition, a cooperation of VMware, Cisco and EMC to realize "Virtual Computing Environments".
The efficiency project has impressive features: sixteen data centers in the Benelux will be reduced to two. 800 of the 2500 applications should be closed down within two years. Where possible, all applications will be virtualized, initially on an internal cloud, but in term also on third parties infrastructures. The x86 platform is preferred because of the cost aspect. Unix, Sparc and Unix on Power platforms are phased out wherever possible.
"We look at all aspects of technology to improve efficiency and to meet new customer needs," says Tony Kerrison, CTO and head of Infrastructure Services of ING. The development of cloud architectures, as a natural extrapolation of virtualized environments, could only lead to one conclusion according to Kerrison: ING did not have to build new data centers, but has to demand flexible capacity in the market.
The extensive data center consolidation that ING has in mind, is possible thanks to a more efficient utilization of physical machines. "A few years ago, we tried eight virtual machines per physical machine. Now we realize thirty to fifty machines in some cases." The miniaturization of chipsets and memory makes a further consolidation possible, expects Kerrison. Using virtual networks and virtual storage a whole set of technologies is available that allows capacity to grow over the physical footprint. "It helps us enormously in power and cooling savings, because the visualized area is much more efficient."
Part of the efficiency wave is the virtualization of desktops with the X86 platform as base. Mid-October ING took the virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) in production after a trial with 500 users. Kerrison: "A virtual desktop can never be the only option, as part of our internal customers want to work in a plane or at their clients. Then you need a laptop. But for many ING employees it's a perfect solution because it makes them more flexible." Kerrison's department supports the virtual desktop on many platforms. For example, ING is working on a VDI app for the iPad. "The most important reason is that we want to be device independent. We make sure it is safe and it works." The advantage of VDI is that no data is stored on the device. Only the session must be secured.
The choice for Cisco and the UCS platform was taken based on the performance of the blade platform ING reviewed. Cisco was new in this field. To ensure that this was the right choice, Kerrison executed a thorough research into the business and technology. ING chose the UCS blade infrastructure of Cisco even before the VCE coalition between VMware, Cisco and EMC was a fact. These companies introduced together Vblock, an integrated suite of network, servers and storage. Kerrison: "For us this was very attractive because we didn't need to worry that much about integrating the various components. Also we could scale the Vblock package by adding or removing units based on our needs. "
ING already had long term relationships with VMware and EMC. Kerrison: "However, one solution wouldn't mean universal happiness either for us. So we have HP and IBM blades and will also continue to use these. We will regularly look what's the best technology at that moment."
Kerrison stresses that the choice for virtualization software was the most important decision. If that choice has been made, the hardware that runs underneath it, is of secondary importance. "Over time the importance of virtualization software will change as well. We are working on technology that operates independently of Hypervisor (VMware), as if it's an extra layer on top, and automatically decides which provider of capacity best suits a particular application or data. This may be within or outside ING. At them moment we only look for capacity within ING. We are thus increasingly districting from the underlying infrastructure."
At the next investment cycle, ING will review all players to see what is the best option in the market at that moment. The blade suppliers are continuously developing. For example, HP has now its 'converged infrastructure', an integrated package of its own storage, server and network. That package did not exist when ING decided to select VCE.
For the virtualization of the application layer all the business units were presented with a bilateral approach. First option Kerrison introduced top-down a blueprint with an architecture of applications of the future. In addition the business units reviewed bottom-up the need and operation of the current applications critically. With these two approaches a quick overview arose of what administration should involve the coming years. In order to get there, ING needed a solution to manage the current applications as efficiently as possible. Kerrison: "On the x86 platform, we could easily virtualize. On Unix platforms we did this, where possible, via AIX, HP-UX and Solaris Containers. This way we could still maintain the virtualization concept, independent of the chipset, whether it was either Sparc or X86 power." For applications where this was not possible, ING used wrapper technology. "This way we could still make them suited for virtualization without rewriting the entire application."
Internal education program
The management of the new IT environment ING realized, requires skills that were insufficiently present at ING. The bank has therefore developed an internal training and certification program with leading technology providers as Google, Microsoft, HP, Cisco and many others. All employees of ING Infrastructure Services follow that program so that they develop a good understanding of virtualization and cloud computing. The training and certification was designed so that other companies can take over the program. "We want to help the industry to set a standard certification for cloud computing in the same way ITIL for IT management is created," says Tony Kerrison, CTO and head of Infrastructure Services of ING. "We are already having conversations with CIOs from other companies about this in the Benelux, but also on a global scale."
This article is written by Thijs Doorenboschfirstname.lastname@example.org and published in Automatiseringsgids 29 oktober 2010