Private clouds? A walk in the park

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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Parks Victoria is also now interested in looking at options for public cloud computing, but so far “the private cloud has worked well for us”.

With the private cloud established, Parks Victoria intends to host Web services and other in-house applications to increase its utilisation. “We will use [Oracle] BI for all reporting and are looking to expand [the cloud] with a big Web implementation,” Popp says.

“We are going down the Web 2.0 path and building a Web content system [Parks Victoria recently won funding from the state’s Department of Innovation] and will integrate with public social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.”

At this stage Popp is uncertain whether the Web application will be hosted in-house or externally. “The content system will be a mash-up with existing technologies out there,” he says. “We use TRIM as a CMS in-house, but if I can leverage Oracle more I will.”

Regarding licensing costs for infrastructure and applications, Popp says more licenses were required “as it was a bigger footprint”.

“If you want to buy a Rolls Royce you pay Rolls Royce prices,” he says. “We got a good discount out of them though, as government departments get 50 per cent off anyway.”

“Virtualisation was scary, but it’s paid off now and I think we will keep expanding.”

How it adds up

Parks Victoria Parks Victoria is the central authority in Victoria for management of natural areas across the state with a jurisdiction of nearly 4 million hectares. Parks Victoria’s IT department supports operations in 120 sites (with some 1100 employees) and uses upwards of 50 business systems, ranging from CRM to geographic information.

How Parks Victoria saved: By implementing virtualisation technology to build a private cloud for its Oracle e-business suite upgrade, Parks Victoria cut $400,000 from its budget and was able to hire another DBA. Virtual server infrastructure is now being leveraged for other applications.

Tools used: Virtualisation from Oracle (Oracle VM, which is based on Xen) for Linux server virtualisation and server hardware from Dell.

Time frame: The e-business suite upgrade and infrastructure refresh project took two years and was completed in November 2009.

1. Don’t be shy to adopt emerging technologies:
Originally uncertain about the robustness of virtualisation for hosting e-business applications, Parks Victoria tested the water and is now enjoying a greater level of flexibility with its infrastructure. Virtualisation software vendors also provide management tools that ease the transition, so take advantage of them when available.

2. Keep your cloud options open:
CIOs can leverage private and public cloud computing services as both generally use similar virtualisation technology. With its internal, private cloud, Parks Victoria is experiencing a new level of operational efficiency, but it is keeping its options open and may use a public cloud to host new applications.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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