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Consolidation of Servers to Maximize Resource Utilization

5338 words (21 pages) Essay in Information Technology

08/02/20 Information Technology Reference this

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Table of Contents

Capstone Proposal Introduction

Review of Other Work

Project Rationale

Systems Analysis and Methodology

Goals and Objectives

Project Deliverables

Project Plan and Timeline

References

Appendix A

Appendix B

 

Capstone Proposal Introduction

The company for this project is Vertex Inc., a global medical device company and leader in new product development and medical education in orthopedics. The company’s main focus has been with the instrumentation used in surgical procedures; however, they have only recently starting to get image capturing technologies for surgeons. Thus, the Unity system was created that allowed image capturing, audio & 4K video routing over IP (internet protocol), and integration capabilities with hospital PACS (picture archiving and communication system) and EHR (electronic health record) systems. Vertex is succeeding at taking out competitors who have already established themselves in this product space. The company is always looking at ways to improve on their existing products and keep to their mission of Assisting Surgeons Care for Their Patients Better™.

The current state of the environment is still new as the department has only been around for a few years with limited testing of equipment that is being deployed to customer sites. The department has demo kits, which are mobile stations that house all of the equipment needed for the Unity.Net Model solution, which is showcased to a potential client either at their offices or on the showrooms at professional conventions. They also have surgical sales centers that host our complete product in a test lab that physicians can visit to try out and learn more about the benefits of the product. The demo kits are sent on crates from location to location and are a mobile solution that needs to be built before each demonstration of the product. Surgical centers are considered more permanent since the cable is run through conduits in the walls just like in an actual hospital. Demo kits are powered by two laptops that simulate the application and media servers needed to run the audio video matrix system, along with other necessary hardware such as a router(s), switch(es), and various cabling. The surgical centers have server blades that are installed in data closet racks for the application and media servers. In both of these environments, the servers being used are expensive, resources on the server are not being used efficiently, and can take up a lot of room during shipment and installation. The department also has a test/learning lab back in the office that is used for testing out the product, troubleshooting issues that are found out in the field and replicating the environment in-house, as well as teaching new hires about the product they would be working with. The learning lab is inefficient as teaching how to troubleshoot, upgrade, or install the application software is expensive as each scenario would need two dedicated servers as well as take up a lot of room in the lab area that is not available.

The scope of the project is a solution that virtualizes these two physical servers on a single small form factor solution. Potential outcomes from this project would be to: provide a single server that would handle the jobs of two physical servers, provide the ability to load virtual machines with various setups and software versions installed, and provide all of the performance at a reduced cost for the department. The device would be a small form factor to reduce the physical footprint but also provide the same performance as the full solution. The device would act as a hypervisor that will spin up snapshots of the server in various states and versions so that a trainee can experience a fresh installation and upgrade processes on a single device with minimal wait time in between virtual machine changes.

The overall purpose of the project is to find a solution to replace two expensive servers with a more cost-effective device that would not hinder the performance of the system. The project will be achieved by the use of a small form factor device that has an 8 core processor with at least 16 GigaBits of random access memory and a solid state hard drive for performance. A hypervisor called XenServer by Citrix will be used to host virtual machines. By the end of the project, the department will have a cost-effective solution that can be used in demonstrations of the product as well as assisting in the teaching of software version deployments with the use of virtual machine snapshot features.

Review of Other Work

 The goal for this project is to improve the current solution by taking two physical servers and consolidating them into a single solution without loss of performance. The goal can be achieved through the use of virtualization or the computing concept for software to essentially imitate many physical devices within a single physical device (VMware, 2018). Virtualization components are broken down into a few categories; there is the “host”, or the main physical device that would be running the virtualization software. Then there is the “guest” or virtual machines within the host system that independent operating systems contained within the host software called a “hypervisor”. These “guests” share the same resources and allow the overall system to utilize the hardware resources effectively. That is the concept behind the consolidation of servers being proposed as this would help solve a relatively simple issue with how the current equipment being used was pretty much overkill in regards to the resources each server was actually using. The system requirements for the Unity solution are the following:

  • Microsoft Windows Server 2012 (US English Version)
  • 4 CPU Core @ 2.4 GHz
  • 8 GB Memory
  • 100 GB Storage
  • 1 GB Network

In a recent tech article data center experts weighed in on their thoughts on virtualization in regards to best practices (Koblentz, 2018). The ideas from those experts brought new angles to look into through the planning of this project. The success of this project would only be achieved by analyzing current system operations and providing a solution that is comparable or better. To begin the systems that were to be virtualized, application & media server respectively were benchmarked in terms of the resources they used when fully operational in a test and demonstration type environment. The data was very telling as it showed that the systems were using only a small percentage of their physical resource utilization under full system load. This was encouraging as it proved that there would be a more efficient alternative to the current solution. As the choice to go with a virtualized solution looked promising the next step was to review and select the hypervisor to run the proposed system.

The solution chosen is Citrix XenServer as it has been identified as an efficient system. Much of this efficiency is due to the fact that it does not run on top of an operating system, which would cause more overhead on the physical resources of the host system. But rather it works by abstracting elements from the physical machines resources and allocates them to the virtual machines running on the host system (Citrix, 2014). By eliminating the overhead of an operating system that uses a good chunk of resources just to function and then with virtualization software on top of that; Local physical resources can be dedicated to the things that matter most on a hypervisor, the virtual machines. XenServer offered many features that would prove beneficial to this project. Among them is the use of snapshots to create images of the server at certain points in time, such as the various versions of Unity.Net that would be running on the virtual machines installed operating systems. These snapshots can then be exported to create templates (.xva files) to import to other XenServer installations to create the same standard operating system environments. The best practices that were provided through the Citrix documentation repository were reviewed and followed to gain the most out of the open source software at the heart of this solution (Citrix, 2016).

Project Rationale

Vertex Inc., being on the cutting edge of technology in the medical space has always prided itself on making their process more streamlined and efficient as a whole. Each year there are departmental has initiatives that have to be met in order to keep that product line moving forward with innovations. Of those initiatives is to increase internal knowledge of the software system to provide better support to our clients, generate more sales of our solution(s), and decrease overall departmental costs. This trifecta of initiatives will help drive the company’s ethos of ‘Assisting Surgeons Care for Their Patients Better’.

To bring more knowledge to members in support and field service departments there needs to be an environment for these team members to training and hone their skills to perform their job roles efficiently and accurately. The best way to hone any type of skill is through repetitive actions to not only memorize the deployment of solutions but also to see how mistakes are created and how to avoid them. The solution with using virtualization to host the operating systems that will run the Unity software will provide a unique take on the learning process. Through the use of hypervisors feature sets such as snapshots, the team would be able to perform a multitude of scenarios that they may run into on the field such as fresh installations and upgrades. The snapshots would house version checkpoints that can be used for training new or existing team members on how to perform a fresh installation of the Unity software onto a clean operating system. Or it can be used to put the virtual machine into a state with a specific Unity software version so that users can identify key features and upgrade paths to various Unity software releases.

Generating sales is no easy task as it takes new understanding as well as a good product to distribute in the marketplace. In order for the company’s sales force to really get customers to understand and appreciate the solution, they need to be shown a demonstration of the solution that Vertex Inc. has to offer. To showcase the Vertex Unity solution demonstration kits have to be created that are mobile and easy to set up. The mobility part is the large consideration to be taken a sales team may consist of 1-2 person crews that are not expected to lug around large heavy equipment. So by replacing two server blades, which weigh around 20-25 pounds each, with a device that weighs less than 5 pounds is  easier for small crew mobility needs. Along with lightweight considerations, the solution will provide easy setup as the device housing would be pre-connected and only require power for the operating systems to automatically startup. This is essential in sales demonstrations as they would have certain time frames to connect, configure settings, and provide a sales pitch. This makes a quick and easy setup more appealing for distributors to want to showcase the product and lock in that sale to increase overall revenue for the company.

There is no surprise that companies and people in general, want to save money. The best way to save money is to be efficient with the available resources. The current demo-kit cost in regards to the servers is a rack-mountable server at the current cost of $2,643.97, for hosting the routing controller software. This is then accompanied by a laptop at the cost of $2,153.99 to host the Unity.net software solution. This brings the total server costs to $4,797.96 cents per demo-kit, which there is a current demand for three to be created and deployed to the field. The proposed solution would have a single machine at the cost of $1,023.75. At that price point, it would provide a decrease at 79% in spending and operating costs, or a savings of $3,774.21 per demo-kit. This would allow those price savings to go towards additional units to be assembled and deployed to various sale sites across the nation.

In summary, this project would solve a few major problems in the current environment. Support team will give better support to the clients by providing them a portable and dynamic learning environment. Help to increase sales by giving the sales force the ability to demonstrate the create features of unity with a mobile solution. Decrease operational costs in order to meet departmental goals by saving on lower cost but a comparable solution. Without this solution, the technical support and internal staff would not have a dynamic environment that adjusts to their learning needs through the use of virtual machine snapshots. As well as with current solution costs being so high, the demo-kit inventory would be very low, at most that would need to be shared amongst sales teams. This would cause some team to go into a situation where all the demo-kits are out in the field and in the end cost a potential sale. 

Systems Analysis and Methodology

 The projects current system environment demo-kit has two separate servers to host the Unity.Net software and the media controlling software respectfully. In regards to the servers, they consist of a Lenovo x3250 M6 rack-mountable server with a Xeon E3 CPU, 16GB RAM, and 600GB RAID 10 SSD system. This is then accompanied by an HP EliteBook 840 G3 with 500GB SSD and 8GB RAM. Due to high costs to build these systems, which are at a cost of $4,797.96 just for the servers, of it is difficult to get a budget to create an individual system for demonstrations as well as learning labs for internal employees. 

This setup only allowed a single physical device to host an operating system that increases the overall physical footprint of the environment as well as considerable weight while transporting the kits. The servers are about 20-25 lbs. each and are mounted onto a rolling rack for transportation along with the rack-mounted router, switch, patch panel, monitors, speakers, media players, and other items needed to make up the Unity.Net Model system.  

With this setup, in training or learning environments the user can only have one version of the software deployed to the system at a time. This increases preparation and setup times to review different versions of the software as the technician would to wipe and install the version of software they are reviewing. Additionally during the training session, if the installation does not work or gets corrupted, the entire server needs to be wiped and files reloaded to the system each time. This is time-consuming and eats away at valuable learning time.

The methodology for this project is based on the Scrum framework that is part of the Agile Project Management. Scrum is one of the many agile methodologies that is used to help teams deliver products in a rapid, efficient and adaptive way. This is done through the use of time boxes called sprints that can have an allotted set of takes to complete within that time frame, as well as stand-up meetings between teams and customers to create more collaboration between the two entities. The benefit of this approach is that there is frequent communication so that decisions on approaches to the solution can be made immediately to reduce the time it would take to bring deliver a project. With the constant check and balance with each step in the project will ensure that limited resources are used effectively. 

The project with the Scrum approach starts off with a vision from business and a set of features ranked by importance to the delivery of the product. These features are then placed to sprints or sections of time in the project. Once features have filled up a certain sprint, the rest are moved to the backlog for future sprint selection. This way the features are not lost but rather delivered as they are needed. Having only certain features to be worked on at a time provide focus on meeting sprint goals so that items are not rushed by rather given adequate quality control procedures.

Progress will be tracked on a board with the sprints listed out that will represent the time frame of the project. Inside each of these sprints will be projected deliverables that will need to be met in order to complete the sprint and reach the project milestones that are essential for the success of the project. The board will consist of task pending to be worked on (To Do), tasks that are currently being worked on (In Process), tasks that are being validated (Quality testing), and complete tasks.

With the sprints created, the team will have daily 15-minute scrum meetings to go over what was completed previously, what is planned for the current day, and any obstacles that are getting into the way of completing a feature from the sprint goals. Then at the end of the sprints, the team will go over the complete tasks with the stakeholders to gather feedback and learn on how to improve processes for future sprints. With this occurring daily and after each sprint this provides the transparency needed between the team working on the solution and the stakeholders, as well as allows the team to adapt to any obstacles or changes in requirements that may not be known at the onset of the project.

Goals and Objectives

  The goals for this project were derived from upper management’s initiatives for the department to improve current processes and generate more clients. As a whole, the department has WIGs or wildly important goals which are to improve departmental profits, provide superior support to customers, and reduce excess spending. The department does not sell products but rather solutions to it customer, so the team has to be able to adapt to client needs and provide a solution that will work out the best for their environment. For the purpose of this project three goals were identified that could be accomplished:

●        Provide a training environment.

●        Reduce departmental costs.

●        Increase sales of the Unity solution.

 Provide a training environment: The first goal of this project is to create a dynamic learning environment that will increase the internal knowledge of the system. In the current environment, all of the system knowledge is in the hands of a few subject matter experts, more specifically the Unity project team that actually deploys the software. However, there are additional teams such as the Technical Support team that answers customer phone calls as well as Field Service Technicians that go out to customer sites to repair their equipment. Both departments are fairly new to the organization so the knowledge in those groups is very limited. So there needs to be a transfer of knowledge that is efficient to all parties involved as human resources are limited and there is still a business to run. Through the use of virtual machines (VM) and the features that virtualization offers, the VM’s can have snapshots in certain points of the version of the application. This is beneficial in a learning lab where the new hires are learning to upgrade a system from a past version to the most up-to-date distribution, and vice versa allows them to see the differences between each distribution so that they are aware of the feature sets and workarounds for issues that they may encounter in the field. Before the use of VM learning lab environment, knowledge was transferred from existing support members and the phone calls that they would receive during the day. This was an inefficient way to learn as it provides no hands-on experience but rather just a frequently asked questions repository. This does not allow our support members to draft up workarounds based on previous experience with the system. Allowing them to have that hands-on experience with the installation/upgrades and functionality provide invaluable knowledge that will better serve our customers. 

 Reduce operational costs: The Company is privately owned so there are not much bearing departments having higher than normal budgets, however, there are still goals to reduce cost in order to improve the efficiency of available resources. The solution provides a reduced cost as first introduced in the System Analysis section of this report. Costs for the current solution for the assembly of the servers is over $4,797 per unit, whereas the proposed solution would reduce the cost of the servers assembly by 84% at a cost of $1023.75 per unit for hardware resources. These cost savings would give the department the available budget to increase the assembly of more Unity Model demonstration kits to ship out to sales staff across the nation and overseas when needed. In addition to the hardware cost-saving benefits, there was a cost saving on the software end as well. There are virtualization solutions that are proprietary and come at a cost per physical machine and/or per processor core. The solution that was selected for this project was XenServer, an open-source virtualization platform is free of charge to use, as they only charge for enabling enterprise features within the management interface and live support. Luckily the needs for this project do not go past isolated systems that do not require those features. This takes any additional software costs to the project and focuses only on hardware costs to determine the satisfaction of this reduce operating

Increase sales of the Unity solution: Sales for our solution can be done in one of two ways: first, the surgeon or hospital administrators can go to a sales agency that has the Unity Model showroom operating room. Second, the sales team can take a demonstration kit that is then set up by the sales staff to showcase to potential customers. Since the showrooms are few and far between the best option to get the customer to see the Unity solution is to bring the product to the customer. However, with the high cost to purchase the materials to assemble these demonstration kits, there are only a few systems available to deploy to the sales agencies. With the cost savings from the server consolidation, those resources will go to the budget to produce more of these demonstration kits. With more demo-kits deployed to agencies increases the odds for them to lock in the sale. Vertex was the first company to come out with a 4K Video Model for routing in an operating room, but its competitors are not far behind. Once the competitors start touting about their 4K solutions, the Vertex sales force will be able to show it first hand to let the customer judge for themselves. Additionally, the demo-kits will be around 40 fewer pounds as a direct result of replacing servers that weigh 20-25 lbs. each to a single device that is less than 5 lbs. This ability to decrease bulky equipment will give the sales team more incentive to take it out into the field to showcase since they won’t have to break a hip transporting the equipment. The more exposure that the Unity solution has with surgeons there is an increased potential to gain them as customers to the solution.

Provide a training environment goal objectives:

●        Introduce virtualization as a solution.

●        Create snapshots for software versions.

Reduce departmental costs goal objectives:

●        Reduce the number of devices.

●        Reduce device costs.

Increase sales of the Unity Solution goal objectives:

●        Assemble additional demonstration kits.

●        Reduce the weight of the current demonstration kits.

●        Easy to setup solution

Project Deliverables

 The project deliverables for this project will be determined by the objectives in this project to fulfill the over goals. Some of the deliverables may be able to meet multiple objectives as they are directly correlated with one another such as reducing the number of devices would reduce the overall weight of the solution.

Objective: Introduce virtualization as a solution.

●        Planned Deliverable: Install XenServer

●        Planned Deliverable: Create 2 Virtual Machines

●        Planned Deliverable: Install Windows Server 2012 R2 Standard

●        Planned Deliverable: Configure Windows Server as per software requirements

●        Planned Deliverable: Configure hypervisor network settings to dedicate network ports for each VM

Objective: Create snapshots for software versions.

●        Planned Deliverable: Download all software packages from past and present version releases

●        Planned Deliverable: Take a snapshot of the system will no version installed

●        Planned Deliverable: Install each version (from oldest to newest) of Unity and configure the Unity software.

●        Planned Deliverable: Take a snapshot after each version of Unity installation

Objective: Reduce the number of devices.

●        Planned Deliverable: Acquire device with enough resources to handle two operating systems

●        Planned Deliverable: Replace existing servers

Objective: Reduce device costs.

●        Planned Deliverable: Eliminate hardware needed per unit*

●        Planned Deliverable: Provide better pricing on new device solution

Objective: Assemble additional demonstration kits.

●        Planned Deliverable: Redistribute cost-savings on additional materials

●        Planned Deliverable: Built additional demonstration kit

Objective: Reduce the weight of the current demonstration kits.

●        Planned Deliverable: Eliminate hardware needed per unit*

●        Planned Deliverable: Provide lightweight replacement

 Objective: Easy to setup solution

●        Planned Deliverable: Standardize IP address

●        Planned Deliverable: Configure servers with static IP Address

●        Planned Deliverable: Configure auto-start of Virtual Machines in XenServer

Along with the deliverables proposed above, there will need to be some documentation on the proposed solution and how it will be configured. Additional deliverables will be a network diagram to show the interconnectivity of the single physical hardware with the two virtualized servers, as well as a full documented user manual to install Xen Server and configure the host and guest machines as per standard for the proposed solution.

Project Plan and Timeline

Project Deliverable or Milestone

Duration

Planned Start Date

Planned End Date

Conduct meeting with Implementation and Technical support manager for requirements gathering

3 hr

11/26/2018

11/26/2018

Complete a review of system resources on current systems and find a PC replacement.

1 day

11/27/2018

11/27/2018

Complete a review of virtualization technologies

5 days

11/28/2018

12/05/2018

Complete system test with VirtualBox virtualization solution.

5 days

11/28/2018

12/05/2018

Complete system test with XenServer virtualization solution.

5 days

12/06/2018

12/12/2018

Implement finalized virtualization solution: Install XenServer

1 hr

12/12/2018

12/12/2018

Implement finalized virtualization solution: Create Virtual Machine template

1 hr

12/12/2018

12/12/2018

Complete final system configuration and setup of the prototype kit

1 day

12/12/2018

12/12/2018

Complete quality assurance testing

5 days

12/13/2018

12/20/2018

Complete user acceptance testing

10 days

12/20/2018

01/04/2019

Complete network diagram

1 day

01/07/2019

01/07/2019

Complete Documentation of solution

3 days

01/07/2019

01/10/2019

Deploy system into a production environment for field testing

3 weeks

01/10/2019

01/31/2019

Complete Monitor and Control of deployment

3 weeks

01/10/2019

01/31/2019

Complete closure

1 day

02/01/2019

02/01/2019

Complete lessons learned

1 day

02/01/2019

02/01/2019

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