Duke Cancer Institute Migrates to Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization

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Customer: Duke Cancer Institute

Industry: Healthcare

Geography: North America

Business Challenge: To find a more cost-effective virtualization technology with better support and reliability

Migration Path: VMware and Virtual Iron (Oracle) running on HP ProLiant BL45p blade servers to Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization for Servers running on HP BladeSystem c7000

Solution: Red Hat® Enterprise Virtualization for Servers supporting virtual servers running Red Hat Enterprise Linux® and Microsoft Windows

Software: Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization for Servers and Red Hat Enterprise Linux

Hardware: HP BladeSystem c7000 populated with five two-socket/12-core AMD-based blade servers; HP StorageWorks EVA4400 with 96TB capacity

Benefits: Reduced datacenter costs through consolidation and lower product fees; simplified support and gained operational efficiencies by standardizing on Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization; improved application responsiveness and performance; significantly increased the stability, reliability, and security of virtualized infrastructure; improved system recovery, business continuity, and high availability; better service level through both programmatic and manual load balancing


Ranked as one of the nation’s top cancer hospitals by U.S. News & World Report, the Duke Cancer Institute (DCI) is an internationally recognized medical organization that combines cancer care and research together under one comprehensive system. With a network of more than 300 researchers and physicians as well as 500 clinical staff, DCI serves nearly 6,000 new cancer patients from around the world each year. DCI is a National Cancer Center Institute designated cancer center — one of only 40 in the nation — and operates as part of the Duke University Health System. The Cancer Center Information Systems (CCIS) group is a shared resource within DCI that provides integrated information systems in support of clinical and basic science biomedical research. The group provides a state-of-the-art computing infrastructure, personnel, technical support, assistance, and consultation in four areas: data management design, database application development, network and server management (including high-performance computing), and web application programming.

Business Challenge

In 2006, the demand for servers was increasing, and the datacenter was growing exponentially. With a history of implementing cutting-edge solutions, the CCIS group decided to move to a virtualization infrastructure to manage this growth. After a small pilot on VMware, the CCIS group rolled out two deployments over time, one using VMware and the majority of their virtualization workload on to Virtual Iron’s VI-Center.

The CCIS team was confident about using virtualization technology, but questioned whether it had chosen the right vendor, especially after Virtual Iron ceased existing as an independent company. Not only was the product they were using reaching end of life, the CCIS group also experienced some unfortunate support experiences with the new owner of the technology. In addition, a blade server was beginning to fail in one of its VMware clusters, and the maintenance renewal was quickly approaching. Rather than invest money into older hardware and an even older VMware installation, the CCIS team decided to start looking for other options.

Because DCI is 100 percent grant funded, money is always a key concern when making purchasing decisions. After running the numbers, the team ruled out VMware because it was not providing enough value for the increasing price tag. CCIS also considered other alternatives such as Xen and Oracle VM, but the vendor that particularly stood out was Red Hat. “I’ve always been a Red Hat fan,” said Jeffrey Allred, manager for network resources at the Duke Cancer Institute. “Knowing how stable the Red Hat Enterprise Linux platform was, I was eager to learn more about Red Hat’s virtualization offering, especially given that it is based on Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) technology.”

Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization for Servers offered all the features Allred and his team were looking for at a cost-competitive price. “With Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization, we could buy both the hardware and virtualization solution for the same amount of money that VMware charged for the virtualization software alone. “Additionally given Red Hat’s solid reputation in the datacenter and its position as the leading Linux vendor, we feel secure that Red Hat is in a solid position to continue to offer and expand its infrastructure product portfolio over the longterm,” said Allred.“And then considering our initial experiences with Oracle’s support team, the choice was especially obvious.”


CCIS made a successful transition into its new Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization environment. The team used Acronis Backup & Recovery Virtual Edition software to migrate from its existing platform to Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization.

Today, DCI’s datacenter houses 85 servers running both Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Microsoft Windows. Roughly 65-75 percent of those servers are virtualized through Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization. As part of its initial deployment, the CCIS group rolled out five two-socket server virtualization hosts, each support ing 11 virtual machines, for a total of 55 virtual machines.

The servers are two-socket, six-core HP AMD blade servers housed in an HP BladeSystem c7000 enclosure. Currently, about 35 percent of the virtual machines are running Red Hat Enterprise Linux, with the remaining running on Windows. And there are plans to deploy more Red Hat Enterprise Linux instances. “The ratio of Red Hat servers to Windows servers will definitely change as we move into the future.” As for storage, the CCIS team selected the storage area network (SAN) route with RAID 6, in the form of an HP StorageWorks EVA4400 storage array with 96 terabyte capacity.

This new infrastructure supports approximately 1,000 users, ranging from research staff to family support groups, who rely on it for research, clinical work, and the support of application and database workloads. Database servers include Oracle, MySQL, and Microsoft. Allred and the CCIS department are especially happy with how easy it is to maintain their new virtualization environment with the management capabilities provided as part of the Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization for Servers solution. “The graphical user interface in Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Manager is very intuitive and easy to use,” said Allred. “You don’t need an engineering degree to figure out what you’re doing. If I see our main VM file server start to consume too much of the host server resources, I can use the live migration feature to easily move it to another hypervisor that is not seeing a lot of CPU usage .Being able to do that on the fly and transparent to users is extremely valuable.”

The CCIS group takes advantage of all of Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Manager’s capabilities, from its high availability feature that enables the prioritization of virtual machine restarts, to the maintenance management feature that enables patches to be applied to the hypervisor host.


There’s the obvious cost savings associated with server consolidation, as well as the greater flexibility and high availability through virtualization. However, with Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization, CCIS also gets unmatched reliability at a much lower price than other solutions. “The stability of the Red Hat platform cannot be beat,” said Allred. “The only time I have to reboot a Red Hat machine is when I upgrade the kernel. In comparison, Windows requires a reboot at least once a month on ’Patch Tuesday.’”

The CCIS group also recognizes compelling performance improvements for its virtual machines, because of Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization. “We’ve definitely noticed improved responsiveness and performance from our Windows and Red Hat Enterprise Linux virtual machines, which are configured identically to our old VMware/Virtual Iron cluster,” said Allred. “From boot up to application performance, they perform better on Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization.”

This greater performance translates into improved productivity for its users. Furthermore, with its integration into the Linux kernel, Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization for Servers’ KVM-based hypervisor provides all of the technology advances of Linux for virtualization. CCIS group also takes advantage of Red Hat’s industry-leading security support team. “In addition to a greater sense of security with Red Hat, we also get a higher quality of support,” said Allred. “With Red Hat, I always get an explanation of how things work, whereas with our old solution, it was positioned more as black magic. Red Hat’s technical expertise, both within its support center and field teams, is world class. Its a world of difference form other virtualization vendors out there.”

The organization also takes comfort in the robust security capabilities of Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization. With SELinux (Security-Enhanced Linux) as part of the Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization hypervisor kernel, security is built in from the ground up and not a bolt-on feature. Acronis was critical to the CCIS group’s migration to Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization. Red Hat does have a fully supported migration path for VMware, but does not support migrations from the older vSphere 3.1. For this work CCIS turned to the Acronis Backup and Recovery 11 Virtual Edition, which is certified for Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization and includes P2V, V2V, and V2P migration capabilities. The migration solution is platform-independent and took the worry out of the platform-specific issues that DCI and the CCIS group previously encountered. The migration process was very fast, and the VMs just started working once they were on Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization.

“It’s a tremendous feeling to be helping a customer like DCI and the CCIS group with open source virtualization technology in their mission to fight and defeat such a terrible disease. And the team at CCIS has been great to work with,” said David Huff, solution architect at Red Hat.

Looking ahead, Allred reflects, “Our c7000 blade enclosure and SAN have a lot of room for expansion, so we will be looking at a desktop virtualization at some point.” He has no doubt that they will look to Red Hat to support this desktop infrastructure as well. “We now have a new mantra within our organization: If it can go on Red Hat, move it to Red Hat.”

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