Fortis Guernsey selects VirtualizeIT for major server virtualisation and consolidation overhaul

Fortis Guernsey has over 80 servers that support the core systems for the organisation.

Recognising that significant further hardware investment was becoming necessary to stop servers falling out of warranty, it seemed a natural progression to consider virtualisation as a means of rationalising further server purchases and consolidating the growing environment. Initially the IT team started with a piecemeal approach within the confines of the data centre test environment and although testing worked well, Mark recognised that they could benefit from expert help to provide a holistic view of the total enterprise. Fortis Guernsey needed to be sure that any virtualisation could successfully accommodate growth whilst consolidating what was already in place, without compromising system reliability. 

The teams objectives were clear. Fortis Guernsey wished to be able to easily provision new systems; provide demonstrable growth for the future; virtualise the servers for easier management, show hardware savings and cost savings; and replace legacy hardware efficiently and cost effectively under the confines of financial services application retention and decommissioning rules that span ten years. 

In terms of the Fortis Guernsey environment, the 80+ servers run on Windows or Linux; holding the businesses critical management applications such as Active Directory; Exchange E-mail; file and print services and SQL Databases. The core banking system, running on IBM pSeries AIX servers, was deemed an unsuitable candidate for virtualisation due to the size, complexity, significant CPU usage and memory requirements, however all the ancillary systems were targeted for virtualization.

Marks internal support team was familiar with the challenges of addressing server sprawl and some of the team had used server virtualisation in the past, so much of the foundation work in the data centre test environment could be decided in-house. What they lacked was the expertise to implement server consolidation across the enterprise. So in mid 2007, Mark and the team started the procurement process for VMware test kit through VirtualizeIT. 

VirtualizeIT response:

VirtualizeIT assigned their key VMware advisory consultants to the challenge. Taking a high level approach, VirtualizeIT conducted initial studies of what was already in place at Fortis Guernsey, conducting detailed benchmarks of what was needed across a month period, analysing and cataloguing peaks and troughs of performance in order to design an optimum virtualised scenario. The benchmarks detailed the memory and processing capabilities of each server; testing and analysing to extremes for resilience and failover. At the end of the months testing, VirtualizeIT consultants delivered a full roadmap of what optimum server virtualisation could look like at Fortis Guernsey recommending VMwares ESX 3.0 server virtualisation platform. 

Mark noted: It was important that we did the extensive groundwork hand in hand with VirtualizeIT. It not only allowed the organisation to go into the project with realistic expectations of what server virtualisation could bring but it also highlighted areas such as virtual performance monitoring that we could drill down into.

So, in mid 2007 Fortis Guernsey officially appointed VirtualizeIT to run the server virtualisation project. 

Technical Solution:

The project installation commenced early in 2008 with over 80 physical servers being migrated onto 6 VMware ESX 3.0 server hosts running on IBM hardware. For Disaster Recovery the VMware hosts were split with a resilient data connection across the organisations two data centres. 

Testing was rigorous; with the team repeatedly soak testing and straining the servers to the maximum in a test environment. Only when the team and VirtualizeIT were satisfied with the results, did installation commence. 

Installation and migration was relatively seamless. Using the internal existing pool of knowledge of VMware combined with intensive knowledge transfer from VirtualizeIT, much of the installation was able to be conducted internally. A consultant from VirtualizeIT worked alongside throughout the duration and became a key member of the migration team providing valuable advice on server, storage and networking implications.

Main Benefits:

Perhaps one of the biggest advantages is that the IT Team can now adhere easily to Business Continuity Planning (BCP) Procedures. BCP regulations mean that Fortis Guernsey need to actively demonstrate that all systems are on-line, tested, fully available, secure and resilient through to the Disaster Recovery site. This annual testing procedure used to be onerous and resource intensive, involving movement of all live production and test data followed by manual reporting of results.  Using the simplified management provided through virtualisation, failover successfully occurs and is fully secured, resilient and contained within less than an hour. 

Resource savings are also paramount to Fortis Guernsey. Not only has the bottom line seen considerable savings in new hardware purchases, but as a committed and responsible environmental organisation, an important corporate saving has involved the bank significantly lowering its carbon footprint and power consumption. 

In terms of resource management, the IT Department are now able to manage servers centrally rather than physically powering down and rebooting. Further cost and resource savings are achieved when provisioning new servers, which is now far easier. New servers are rolled out quickly with migration of data also being simplified.

Mark notes Summarising the benefits of the server virtualisation project is hard to quantify simply because they are so extensive and wide ranging. VirtualizeIT were, and remain, instrumental in the success of the project from the initial benchmark and design process right through to the thorough skills and knowledge transfer to our in-house team.

With regards to future virtualisation plans, the team are working with VirtualizeIT to start virtualizing their desktop environment. As with all projects and to the satisfaction of the Board, the IT Team with VirtualizeIT have already worked out a 5 year lifecycle plan -  year two demonstrating breakeven costs; year 3 recoup costs and by year 5 significant cost savings. 

When it comes to their experience with VirtualizeIT, Mark concluded, We were very thorough in our selection of a first class advisor for server consolidation and virtualisation and VirtualizeIT have definitely proved to be the correct choice. For the benefit of Fortis Guernsey, they have worked hand in hand with our internal teams to provide a versatile, robust server virtualised environment.

About Fortis Guernsey

At the time of the project, Fortis Guernsey was part of the Fortis Banking and Insurance group; one of the worlds leading banking and insurance companies providing services to personal, business and institutional customers. The Group delivers its clients an extensive range of financial products and services including merchant, commercial and private banking; insurance and investments.  Within their Channel Island arm, Fortis Guernsey offers offshore clients complete wealth management, banking, fund, investment management, taxation and trust & corporate services.  As part of the realignment of the banking sector, Fortis Guernsey is now owned by the Dutch government, providing further surety for clients. 

The Channel Islands operation is run out of the Fortis Guernsey office in St Peter Port. There, Mark Duddy, IT Manager, Fortis Guernsey, looks after the IT infrastructure team providing enhanced and reliable services to over 275 staff.  The supporting IT team consists of 6 experienced members.

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