A virtual operation

Despite a history stretching back almost 500 years, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) recently found itself facing a very modern problem. Like many organisations with a far less illustrious pedigree, it was playing host to a sprawling and resource-hungry hardware estate, underpinning a large range of different websites.


These websites provide the College’s 22,000 fellows and collegiate members, as well as the public at large, with the latest thinking and guidance on medical issues. They include its primary site (www.rcplondon.ac.uk), audit sites for clinical researchers, and a full administration portal to support doctors taking the examinations for membership of the RCP, which offers online payment facilities.

The servers supporting these sites, meanwhile, were scattered between data centres in London, Newbury and Harrogate. “We badly needed to consolidate,” says Christopher Venning, IT network and support manager at the RCP. “The management overhead and distances involved were becoming unworkable.”

As with many organisations, he adds, downtime was not an option: “The College’s members require access to support information and exam materials around the clock, so our websites are expected to be available at all times. When exam results are announced, the amount of web traffic that the College has to handle is enormous.”


With another new examination website planned, Venning knew by 2006 that it was time to take action and, after some research, decided that what was needed was a modern answer to a modern problem: virtualisation technology.

Despite using Microsoft’s SharePoint content management software to underpin many of the RCP’s critical websites, Venning decided that Microsoft’s own virtualisation software wasn’t – at that point at least – ready to take on the challenge that the RCP would throw at it.

“My main concern was the lack of management tools available that would enable us to shift virtual machines around the estate and perform tasks such as digital resource scheduling,” he says.

Instead, the RCP opted for virtualisation software from VMware, which enabled it to consolidate 45 virtual machines across seven HP blades in its primary data centre, achieving a consolidation rate of six virtual machines per blade. That has enabled it to cut its hardware requirements by four-fifths, says Venning, and CPU utilisation rates are now up to 80%.

“Without virtualisation, delivering an acceptable level of service in a physical environment would have been extremely costly in terms of hardware, management and power requirements,” he says. “Now, we’ve given our internal green working party some very good news, and we’re planning to build on our energy savings by using virtualisation to provide RCP employees with low-energy Wyse thin clients instead of power-hungry PCs.”

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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