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Microsoft Touts Server Virtualization for Target Corp.

Microsoft today showcased the success of U.S. retailer Target Corp. in using server virtualization to reduce its physical server footprint across its 1,755 stores.

Target used Microsoft's Hyper-V server virtualization technology to help with the migration effort. The retailer used it to move from maintaining seven servers per store to handling just two servers per store. That effort allowed Target to retire 8,650 physical servers across its stores and save on the associated power and maintenance costs.

Target began its server virtualization odyssey initially in 2004 as part of the Microsoft Technology Adoption Program. Microsoft helped the retailer run its Linux-based pharmacy application on Microsoft Virtual Server 2005, and that solution was deployed to "approximately 1,500 stores," according to Fritz DeBrine, Target's senior group manager of server technology and enterprise storage, as described in a Microsoft case study. The server replacement was started, in part, because Target needed a replacement for its aging IBM AIX-based servers running the pharmacy app.

The retailer eventually ended up with server sprawl because it had dedicated one server per application in some instances. In addition to the pharmacy application, Target had point-of-sale and stock replenishment applications. All told, the retailer has more than 300,000 endpoints to maintain, which includes registers, kiosks, mobile devices, servers and computers.

Target used SQL Server 2005 with Virtual Server 2005 for the replenishment application, but it experienced a server bottleneck. The problem was traced to the "single CPU limitation in Virtual Server 2005," which caused a performance drag on SQL Server 2005. The retailer switched to using Windows Server 2008 Datacenter edition with Hyper-V to tap multicore capability. This capability allows a virtual machine to potentially tap up to four logical processors.

The two-servers-per-store feat was carried out by deploying Microsoft's Hyper-V storewide. Target used Dell R710 servers to host Hyper-V, along with Dell MD1000 storage units. The migration process was completed across 350 stores in 2010, and 1,300 stores were scheduled for migration this year. Total Hyper-V migration is expected to be completed by the second quarter of 2012 for all 1,755 Target stores.

Target also uses System Center Configuration Manager 2007 to deliver security updates and manage multiple mobile devices, computers and servers. The maintenance is mostly done remotely, as Target has no dedicated IT team personnel located in each store. Instead, Target works with third-party contractors for direct site maintenance.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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