Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust is using virtualisation for its print servers and infrastructure management, and has plans to extend virtualisation to its web and application servers.

At a Hewlett Packard virtualisation round table this week, Malcolm Flier, the trust’s head of support services, said the main drivers for the move had been to save space and power and to reduce the heat output in its server rooms.

“In the summer we really struggled with heat,” he said. “The hospitals server rooms were full of conventional servers that tend to run well below their maximum capacity but still consume a lot of energy and emit too much heat.”

Another benefit of virtualisation that was raised at the event was that it can reduce carbon emissions and so help the NHS achieve new government targets. However, Flier said this had not been a key driver for his trust. “Our first priority was to deliver a better service, and reducing carbon emissions was just a bi-product and a bonus,” he said.

Flier said the trust’s servers had been ageing. “Our existing equipment was getting old, and was going to need replacing anyway. Therefore, it was almost like we fell into it [virtualisation],” he said.

Flier’s team ran a pilot project for three months to test the concept of running several virtual servers on a single physical computer.

The trial was “very successful” and the trust is now switching over to HP ProLiant BL465 c-Class blade servers to run its print servers and infrastructure management.

Eventually, it will virtualise further. The objective is to achieve a consolidation ratio of six virtual servers per blade; in other words, a single blade server will run six virtual servers.

“No one realised we had done the virtualisation,” Flier told the round table. “And they haven’t been able to tell the difference, so obviously we have done it right. People actually commented on how systems were running faster.”

In a parallel project, the trust is installing a pair of HP Enterprise Virtual Array Stage Area Networks (SANs) to improve storage.

HP has helped it to implement a high-availability system that has seen the SANs and servers duplicated in two, geographically separate server rooms with a high bandwidth microwave link between them. This allows data to be constantly transferred from one site to another, greatly improving disaster recovery.

“Support is much easier in a blade environment,” Flier said. “HP Systems Insight Manager can spot problems with the hardware before they become catastrophic and it can switch virtual servers from malfunctioning systems to working blades.”

Asked if there was anything that he would do differently if starting the whole process from the beginning, Flier said he would plan better. “Planning is very important,” he said.

“When we did our trial, we thought that we were ready to go live, but suddenly we realised something was wrong, and therefore we had to start the process all over again. It is easy to set up but difficult to do it properly.”

At the round table, HP presented research showing that interest in virtualisation is growing, with 56% of the European chief information officers who responded to a survey saying that they had adopted virtualisation to some extent and 21% saying they had plans to do so.

However, the research suggested that virtualisation is still seen as a technology that can help with specific problems, such as data volume, rather than as a strategic business tool that can be used to gain strategic advantage. HP argues organisations need to do the latter to see a return on investment.

Flier said that the virtualisation of the trust’s servers has added 30 new services, and cut down on power and space. Currently the trust’s server rooms use 76kW energy, but it is hoped that virtualisation will reduce energy consumption by 87%, to 10kW.