kovaleff - Fotolia

Evaluate Weigh the pros and cons of technologies, products and projects you are considering.

How DH2i container management software can lower licensing fees

Asante and Eversheds both cut SQL Server licensing costs using the new DH2i container management software, DxEnterprise. DH2i plans to compete with Microsoft.

In the medical community, many vendors use SQL Server. Currently, Asante, a healthcare provider based in southern Oregon, has 68 SQL Servers -- some large for purposes of consolidation and others as small as a single application brought in by a vendor. As a result, dealing with the proliferation of vendors' SQL Servers has become a serious problem for Michael York, senior systems engineer at Asante. Every extra server means yet another expensive license. Looking to save money, York found DH2i's container management software, DxEnterprise.

Meanwhile, UK-based law firm Eversheds has a split system where only core applications and infrastructure are managed locally. Dean Bray, technical services manager at Eversheds, needed a solution to make managing that split system easier. Eversheds was already using two DH2i products, DxTransfer and DxConsole, so DxEnterprise seemed like a logical next step.

DxEnterprise is DH2i's container management software for Windows Server. Containerization is an alternative to full virtualization in which an application is encapsulated in a container with its own operating environment. This arrangement enables the decoupling of application instances from infrastructure so that they can move transparently between hosts. DH2i says containerization helps customers with consolidation, building hybrid clouds, meeting service-level agreements and achieving high availability and disaster recovery.

Containers can curb expenses

Don Boxley, CEO of DH2i, describes DxEnterprise as a way to address a common concern among customers. "The one thing they all have," he said, "is a lot of expensive applications they need to manage." SQL Server itself can also be expensive and made even more so by Microsoft's licensing costs. Furthermore, since high availability only comes with the much higher priced Enterprise Edition of SQL Server, users pay extra for the Enterprise Edition, even if they don't need it. "People pay for the complexity," Boxley said.

DH2i contacted Denny Cherry, principal consultant for Denny Cherry and Associates Consulting, to try out DxEnterprise and give his verdict. Cherry described DxEnterprise as a replacement for failover clustering in Windows that moves from server to server without having to deal with the restrictions on the number of servers available in a cluster imposed on standard edition SQL Server users. The problem DXEnterprise addresses, according to Cherry, is that in order to have more than two nodes in a cluster in a SQL Server environment, the licensing cost jumps from $20,000 for the standard addition to $200,000 for the enterprise edition. With DxEnterprise, Cherry said, "SQL Server doesn't know it's clustered per se. It doesn't know it should enforce the enterprise ban." The ban refers to SQL Server requiring an enterprise license for certain types of usage, including clustering beyond two nodes. If SQL Server doesn't know the servers are clustered, companies like Eversheds and Asante could pay the much cheaper price for the standard edition.

According to York, DxEnterprise helped accomplish his goal. "For us, it's absolutely about trying to lower the capital and operating budget," he said. As a not-for-profit, the money saved doesn't go to shareholders, but can instead be spent on what York calls "IT technology that makes more sense." Using DxEnterprise, Asante is down to three physical enterprise servers. After installing DxEnterprise on two servers, York added, DxEnterprise was already able to pay for itself. Furthermore, York said, "It gives us the ability to grow our SQL Server the way we need to instead of the way Microsoft wants us to." Because of the high cost of SQL Server licenses, York had been limited in what he could do with his SQL Servers.

"[Containers] fundamentally allow customers to choose their infrastructure," Boxley said. For example, since containerization allows Asante to have more instances on fewer servers, York is freer in his SQL Server development.

Few problems in production so far

Bray's favorite feature in DxEnterprise is the ability to use the Microsoft NT file system's logical unit numbers (LUNs). Bray has four LUNs per SQL instance and 20 instances per blade. With DxEnterprise's containerization, he said, when a failover needs to happen, only the LUNs related to a specific instance failover. He then tested the system and determined he could failover one instance individually. This is important for end users, since it minimizes downtime. Another feature decreasing downtime is the ability to freeze one node, taking it out of the system and uninstalling and reinstalling software without affecting the sequence. Each node can be taken frozen one at a time so that an update can happen without affecting performance.

As of this writing, Asante has had DxEnterprise in production for approximately four weeks and York plans to have loaded up to full production by the end of May. York experienced few problems with DxEnterprise, finding installation especially easy. "Five clicks and it's installed," he said. However, York encountered one bump on the road. At first, the timing of DxEnterprise's failover did not perform satisfactorily with Asante's servers. However, within two weeks of turning in two or three tickets on the matter, York had an adjustment to the failover incorporated into DxEnterprise.

Eversheds has DxEnterprise running in both production and development environments, and Bray plans to have all SQL Servers running DxEnterprise by the end of the year. So far, Bray says that he has run into no problems. Since Eversheds was part of the DxEnterprise beta test, Bray already had a chance to make requests for changes and have those changes applied. "By the time we got to production," Bray said, "we'd addressed all the main issues."

Boxley, however, is still looking to challenges in the future. "We think we're well-positioned to compete against Microsoft in this arena," he said. He believes that user demand will eventually force Microsoft to start offering competitive containerization. However, Boxley added that while DxEnterprise was meant to be a challenge to the Microsoft status quo, he wasn't trying to change "the way Microsoft does things."

Next Steps

Learn more about DxEnterprise and its Windows Server-based containers

Find out why Epworth and Vecima chose another DH2i product, DxConsole

Learn more about Google's container management project

Do containers hurt or help efforts around continuous integration?

Dig Deeper on SQL Server High Availability, Scalability and Reliability