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Upper management at energy company Enbridge Inc. is pushing for increased use of server virtualization. And Enbridge's Houston-based U.S. unit is taking the migration to virtualized servers as an opportunity to upgrade its SQL Server databases in order to standardize as much as possible on the 2012 release.
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The Houston office previously was running a mix of database versions from SQL Server 2005 to SQL Server 2012, all Standard Edition, on 28 physical servers, according to database administrators Mel Stevenson and Jack Bartuska. When the migration is completed, those 28 systems will be replaced with VMware virtual machines running on three Linux servers, they said in an interview at the PASS Summit 2014 in Seattle.
Enbridge, which is headquartered in Calgary, Alberta, owns and operates a variety of oil and natural gas pipelines in Canada and the U.S. It also has offshore pipelines in the Gulf of Mexico, plus rail facilities, a power transmission unit and other businesses. Stevenson said the DBA team in Houston acts independently from its counterparts in Canada, but he expects the virtualization push to extend beyond the U.S. operations. "I think everything's going virtual," he said.
More flexibility, lower costs
Stevenson cited both increased flexibility and cost savings as being behind the push for server virtualization. "With the physical box, if [something] isn't in the box, you have to buy it," he said. But with virtualized systems, it's just a matter of adding more virtual servers or memory. That helps make the SQL Server databases running on the systems "more tunable," he added.
Another part of the decision to go virtual on the servers was related to the distance between Houston and Calgary. Transporting large numbers of servers between the two sites became extremely expensive, Stevenson said.
As part of the database upgrade process, the DBAs in Houston are updating as many of the existing SQL Server instances to SQL Server 2012 as possible while maintaining backward compatibility with the applications supported by the databases. In some cases, applications aren't compatible with SQL Server 2012, forcing the company to continue using SQL Server 2005.
Business buy-in not universal on upgrades
Other than that, the main challenges Enbridge has faced on the upgrades didn't come from the technology.
"There has been some pushback from the business groups," said Bartuska, a senior DBA at the company. The applications affected by the upgrades include accounting and other business systems, plus a SolarWinds app for monitoring network traffic. Bartuska explained that business groups and other application owners at Enbridge don't necessarily get any direct advantages from the data upgrades -- but they can experience some downtime during the upgrade process.
"There's always resistance to change," he said. "It's not the majority of people, but there [are] some. People are happy with where they're at." Nonetheless, the upgrade effort is going forward and the IT team at Enbridge is pushing to get the affected business units on board with the changes.
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