Over the years, I've met with many customers who have spikes in their holiday traffic. I've spoken with a southern hemisphere beverage company, who has a huge spike in orders the last Monday morning before Christmas. I've spoken with a customer who's busiest day of the year is the final Friday before Christmas. I've spoken to numerous retailers who have their busiest shopping days at this time of the year. Often, these spikes are 10 times or more higher than the average demand.
How do these customers adapt to the high levels of seasonal demand? The first, and most obvious technical way is to provision their systems to handle the peak demand. Of course, that means they are paying for excess capacity for the rest of the year. Having said that, they meet their business requirements, customers are happy, and the IT department keeps their jobs.
The alternative of reducing the peak size of the systems, so that they can't handle all the demand, will save a little money on the IT budget. However, every year, there are IT infrastructures that get a surge of demand that they weren't designed to handle, and the company ends up losing customers, their reputation, and a lot more money than the extra capacity would have cost in the first place.
Having said that, more and more customers are looking at this environment, and with reduced budgets, they want the best of both worlds. Customers need to handle their peak capacity, but also take advantage of lower costs. At the end of the day, there are two ways that virtualization can help in this situation.
First, and perhaps the easiest way, its to take advantage of some sort of flexible financing so that you only pay for additional capacity when you actually need it. This is the idea behind offerings such as Instant Capacity and Temporary Instant Capacity on HP Integrity servers all the way to truly flexible cloud computing offerings such as Amazon EC2.
The second way is to run additional workloads on the systems to use up the extra capacity. This works well, as long as those additional workloads can be released to provide resources for the primary workload when the demand spikes come along. Dynamic hard partitions (nPars), dynamic vPars, virtual machine, and application stacking technologies all make this possible . Freeing up resources can be everything from manually shutting down low priority workloads to automatically shifting resources between partitions to migrating workloads off of a system. I've even come across some unique ways of tackling this problem:
- locking down the environment for a few months, and shutting off all development and test systems;
- running on a single node of Oracle RAC for most of the year and expanding to multiple nodes for the holiday rush;
- migrating production workloads to larger or dedicated systems for a period of time
- and more.
The good news is that virtualization technologies, such as Insight Dynamics - VSE , whether on HP Integrity servers, HP ProLiant servers, or HP BladeSystem, create an environment where this is not only possible, but relatively easy to do.
Actually, these customers have it relatively easy. They know that they will have a holiday spike. They even can generate a reasonably accurate estimate of the workload that their systems will see on those days. They can plan to lock down their environment in advance to free up test or development systems. They can manually resize partitions days or weeks in advance. And since the holiday season is reasonably predictable, they can make there plans well in advance.
The nice thing about Insight Dynamics - VSE for HP Integrity is that while it makes it easier to handle the predicted fluctuations, it actually excels in handling the unpredictable spikes and troughs in demand equally well. Since it is automated, tools like the HP Global Workload Manager component in Insight Dynamics - VSE for Integrity can observe and react to changes in the environment in seconds- not minutes or hours. It automates the rest of the portfolio, including the partitioning, clustering, and instant capacity products to automatically react to changing workloads.
At the end of the day, automation of a flexible environment provides the best of both worlds - high levels of utilization (and therefore lower total cost of ownership), but with the ability to handle peak workloads - whether predictable peaks like the holidays, or an unpredictable peak. The best of both worlds - and a less stressful holiday season for all those who work in IT.