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By GCN Staff

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Defense agency compresses IT space-time continuum

We just had an interesting chat with Mike Williams, the chief information officer for the Defense Contract Management Agency, a contract management body for the Defense Department. With his office overseeing an aggressive IT consolidation effort, Williams has told us that he has found two technologies that go well together for this task: virtualization and appliance-based optimization for wide area networks.

In a nutshell, Williams' team is in the process of reducing the number of servers DCMA runs, from 560 to 160. The agency also wants to cut the number of server farms, from 17 to 2 production sites (and 2 backup sites). The Wintel servers coming under the knife do the routine agency administration tasks such as serving files, dynamically assigning network addresses, managing e-mail and directory services, running agency-specific Web applications and so forth.

Virtualization has proved key to this consolidation effort, Williams said. The agency is using VMware ESX server, software from VMWare Inc. that allows multiple operating systems (and their applications) to run side-by-side on the same server. Williams' team has been able to run multiple virtual servers on one physical machine.

'A lot of these [services] really don't like anything else being on the box besides themselves,' Williams said. 'With virtualization, you can fool them into believing they own the actual box.'

In fact, this consolidation effort has worked out so well that the agency was able to donate 90 servers to the National Guard.

Now, we've heard that, depending on what you try to do in a virtualized environment, performance can take a hit. Yet Williams said he saw little slowdown for the duties he virtualized.

One potential issue that did rear its ugly head, however, was latency. Since agency applications have been centralized, their services are now being accessed from afar, by distant field offices. As such, the response time across thousands of miles started to become an issue. To anticipate this challenge, DCMA upgraded its network backbone. But even with boosted bandwidth, lag still persisted, since many applications have very chatty protocols. A user can be frustrated by the apparent unresponsiveness of a client waiting for even small bits of operational data.

Now DCMA is trying WAN optimization packages to combat this problem. Companies such as Radware Ltd. and Riverbed Technology Inc. have offered, for several years now, ways to reduce the lag on wide area networks. These approaches usually consist of placing appliances on either end of a WAN that cache frequently used material, reducing the round-trip distance between the server and user.

'If you do a consolidation effort, do plan on WAN optimization at the same time,' Williams advised. 'We're seeing the benefits. It actually cut down considerably on the transfer of certain file types.'

Posted by Joab Jackson on Dec 20, 2006 at 9:39 AM


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