NPS subscribes to virtualisation in $250K IT overhaul

More than 50 per cent of power spent on computers

The unstoppable march of virtualisation has won another victory with Australia’s National Prescribing Service (NPS) consolidation 39 physical servers down to three and saving enough power to pay for future infrastructure upgrades.

The NPS is a federally funded not-for-profit organisation within the Department of Health and Ageing that advises consumers and health professionals about the use if medicines. It terms this the “quality use of medicines” or QUM.

Chief technical officer, Tony Harrison, was faced with “a real mix” of technology when he arrived which had snowballed into 39 servers.

Harrison wanted to streamline IT operations and about a year ago looked into virtualisation to do that.

“A few vendors we approached were keen to charge us but not keen to understand our business,” he said, adding the company wanted to be “leading edge, not bleeding edge”.

Harrison said the NPS’s budget is about $26 million annually, of which $250,000 was allocated to modernise the IT infrastructure.

Eventually Dell was chosen as the preferred supplier for servers and desktops.

“Working with Dell was a pleasant surprise,” Harrison said. “We put in a Dell EqualLogic SAN and are set to replace 39 servers with three.”

About 150 people work at the NPS, but the IT team in only nine strong, including application developers.

To achieve such a dramatic consolidation, the NPS is using VMWare’s vSphere 4 hypervisor product. About 33 servers will be fully virtual at the end of the project.

The NPS has about 200 desktop PCs and estimates as much as 54 per cent of its power consumption is due to computers.

“If all the research turns into reality IT will become self-funding,” Harrison said, but was not overly confident this scenario would eventuate.

The NPS network has also received a few updates with Dell also scoring a win over the incumbent Cisco.

“I’m a Cisco guy and love the products, but due to the long delivery times we tried Dell switches and they have been performing as well as Cisco,” Harrison said, adding he “loves the price”.

A LifeSize high definition videoconferencing system is also about to go in with the aim of reducing executive travel by three flight per fortnight.

For software, the NPS is largely a Microsoft customer with Exchange 2007, SharePoint, SQLServer and Navision for financials. It gets government pricing from Microsoft.

“We missed Vista, but will upgrade to windows 7 when our new desktops arrive and will go straight to Exchange 2010 when it comes out,” Harrison said. “We did run Crystal Reports for reporting, but the cost of Microsoft’s product is too compelling.”

The NPS has some Linux systems running, but its next big software move will be in the cloud.

“We have a number of databases that need to be accessible to a wide range of people – from consumers to clinicians,” Harrison said. “So we are looking at moving this information to something like Saleforce.com in the cloud as we are unlikely to be able to provide the same level of service with our budget.”

Dell’s SMB corporate vice president for the Asia Pacific region, Amit Midha, said more small businesses are out-innovating the enterprise because they have fewer distractions and legacy systems.

“Small business investments in servers, storage and software are increasing in the one to 500 seats businesses,” Midha said.

“Even in small businesses virtualisation can reduce cooling by 30 per cent.”

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