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    Rise of the (Virtual) Machines

    NACStech session explores how to increase bandwidth with virtualization.

    By Don Longo, Convenience Store News

    NEW ORLEANS -- Two retailers provided case studies on how they reduced data storage requirements and developed cost-effective disaster recovery plans through the use of virtual machines during the NACStech session entitled, "Increasing Personnel Bandwidth with Virtualization," held here Wednesday.

    Virtualization is running a virtual package of hardware, operating systems and applications on top of another operating system, according to Peter Steele, senior vice president of development for Pinnacle Corp., and moderator of the session. Virtualization can improve the efficiency and availability of resources and applications used by a company.

    Steele outlined many attributes of using virtual machines:
    -- More than one virtual machine (VM) can be run on a single physical machine;
    -- Switching from one VM to another is as simple as switching windows;
    -- VM packages can be moved easily from one physical machine to another;
    -- Application solutions can be packaged for quick and easy deployment on one or more servers;
    -- VMs can be moved to a different physical server to take advantage of available computing power;
    -- Can share hardware without concern for drivers and compatibility;
    -- Can run incompatible applications on a single PC by running them on separate VMs;
    -- Can run different operating systems on the same machine; and,
    -- Provides better control of resource allocation based on the importance of the applications.

    Nick Spann, senior systems engineer for WilcoHess LLC, provided a case study of using virtualization to make disaster recovery (DR) more affordable for his convenience store chain. "The flexibility of virtual servers mitigates the expense, complexity and time of traditional DR planning," said Spann.

    The savings occurs because traditional DR solutions require one-for-one solutions, which essentially doubles the cost. "The ability to copy a system as a file increases enterprise flexibility and decreases costs," said Spann, who noted that WilcoHess was able to put seven to eight servers onto just two main servers.

    Chris Boebel, IT manager for Delta Sonic Car Wash Systems, said the company turned to virtualization because the company had underutilized hardware and many servers were reaching the end of their life. In addition, the company wanted to add 10 to 15 new servers, but was running out of space in its server room. "We also had no good backup and disaster recovery plan and an aging fleet of user desktops," said Boebel.

    "Now, we have 106 virtual machines running on 11 physical computers in a secure, temperature-controlled server room with clean power," he added. Among the benefits realized:

    -- Systems that were running at less than 10 percent utilization are now running between 60 to 80 percent;
    -- They only use as much space as needed at any particular time; and,
    -- Everything is backed up more efficiently.

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    By Don Longo, Convenience Store News
    • About Don Longo Don Longo is editorial director of EnsembleIQ's Convenience Store News. He has covered retailing for more than 30 years as a reporter, editor and publisher. Previously, he spearheaded the editorial efforts at a variety of business publications focused on mass, drug, grocery and specialty store retailing. Convenience Store News won American Business Media‚Äôs Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Issue of the Year in 2008 and 2012. Longo has won numerous other editorial awards over his career and is frequently quoted in the national and local news media on the subjects of retailing and consumer trends.
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