Aug 31 2017
Data Center

WSDOT’s Back-End Makeover Lets the Department Do More with Less

By upgrading its servers and moving to a virtualized environment, the Washington State Department of Transportation is able to increase its connection speeds on a tight budget.

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is getting faster. While the buses won’t be pushing speed limits anytime soon, a server upgrade and increased connection speeds mean the transportation agency will be able to streamline workloads and better serve its public.

WSDOT oversees 18,600 miles of state highway, maintains nearly 3,300 bridges, manages the largest ferry system in the U.S., and works with 31 partner public transit networks to provide 220 million passenger trips each year. However, it was the traffic on the agency’s back-end networks that was proving to be the real problem.

“We had a large amount of traffic traversing a relatively small pipe,” says Wayne Holland, head of WSDOT IT server support. This is because the agency’s Hewlett Packard Enterprise blade servers, while sufficient in many ways, only provided a 1-gigabyte uplink for data transfer, which caused bottlenecks during backups.

Moreover, WSDOT had an overstretched IT team of 12 supporting more than 1,200 servers, maintaining everything from simple file servers to public-facing applications to database back-ends.

In order to improve uplink time and future-proof the system, the agency needed to automate its processes and replace aging equipment to reduce downtime in public services.

Holland and his team decided to upgrade to HPE Synergy, a “composable infrastructure” server platform that combines storage, compute and network equipment in one chassis. It also includes management software that can configure the hardware automatically to provide the resources necessary to run an application.

“We now have eight 10GB uplink connections going up to our distribution switches and then going to our core. We have increased our bandwidth significantly, from 4GB to 80GB. With that has come a huge speed increase for us,” says Holland.

Moreover, the move to Synergy allows the IT team to pull up workloads more quickly.

“We can bring up workloads pretty quickly on Synergy, which is something that the onboard administrators and virtual connectivity can do as well, but the 10GB interface allows us to do everything more easily. The interface is a lot cleaner. It’s a lot faster. It makes the administration a little bit easier,” says Holland.

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Future-Proofing WSDOT with a Virtualized Environment

Holland says WSDOT is still in the middle of the switch, however, and that’s by design. Tight budgets mean that the agency can’t afford to replace all 10 IT closets of blade servers at once. By starting a few years out, the agency will complete the full upgrade by the time the blade servers become obsolete.

“While obsolescence is still a ways off with the blade platform, as a government agency, it’s difficult to do a forklift upgrade to replace all servers at once with the small amount of money we are budgeted during each quarter,” says Holland. “For that reason, we have to start planning ahead and future-proofing our purchases over the next few funding cycles.”

Moreover, the new servers will help the IT team run more with the equipment that they have.

A reality for us is that we have to do more with less,” he says. “We’re getting more workload on single boxes, because it’s more cost effective that way. However, we need the newer technology with the greater speed to make that possible.”

The change, which started earlier this year, helps to support WSDOT’s move to a virtual environment. When the change began, the team had about 15 to 20 virtual machines per host. They are now up to about 50 or 60 VMs per host, according to Holland.

As you take a virtual environment and load hosts up with more virtual workloads, you need more bandwidth to support that. We have instances where some VMs are really chatty and they are taking a lot of bandwidth and it impacts other systems. By increasing the available bandwidth we increased our capacity,” he says.

As a result, the IT team now spends less time managing infrastructure and more time supporting new projects, which directly impacts WSDOT’s operations and reputation by helping the public make more informed travel decisions.

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