Power Play at City Hall
Much of the business of city government comes down to infrastructure
management -— things like patching potholes and collecting trash. But when
the City of Minneapolis, Minn., decided to use the Internet to automate
its business processes, it was obvious the information infrastructure
would need updating, too.
Having migrated from mainframes to Compaq Proliant servers amid Y2K preparation,
the city decided in early 2001 to begin replacing those 90 servers with
larger mainframe-class e-@ction ES7000 servers from Unisys Corp.
The goal: A more scalable, reliable and economical backbone for the emerging
With two ES7000s in production and perhaps three more planned, Chief
Information Officer Karl Kaiser says he's already saved hundreds of thousands
of dollars in hardware leases, software licenses and maintenance costs
while adding Unisys-guaranteed five-nines (99.999 percent) availability
for existing applications and future ones like wireless data entry.
Details: City of Minneapolis
Organization: City of Minneapolis
Goal: Provide the high-availability infrastructure
needed for a "Virtual City of Minneapolis."
Team leader: Karl Kaiser, CIO
Partners: Ray Zabilla, project manager and chief
executive officer, Bitsolutions LLC (White Bear Lake, Minn.)
Location: Minneapolis, Minn.
Web Site: www.ci.mpls.mn.us
Scope: Replace underutilized servers with more efficient
boxes—unifying the mixed AIX/NT environment on Windows 2000.
Equipment/Platform: 90 Compaq Proliant servers running
Microsoft Windows NT 4.0, Exchange 2000 and Oracle 8 and
SQL Server 2000 applications.
Outfit two mainframe-class Unisys ES7000
servers with Windows 2000 Datacenter Server or Advanced
Move some existing applications off 16
Compaq servers into partitioned logical servers.
Extend the life of low-powered desktop
PCs with Citrix MetaFrame XP thin-client software. At
least three more ES7000s are needed to complete the job.
Product: e-@ction Enterprise Server ES7000 from
Costs: The first unit, a 32-processor ES7000 with
24GB RAM and Unisys services, cost just under $600,000.
The city will see initial savings approaching
$800,000 for service, licenses and leases while guaranteeing
Longer-term savings are anticipated as
the city standardizes on the ES7000s' Windows 2000 operating
system, eventually eliminating Unix by phasing out eight
IBM RISC servers running AIX.
Lessons Learned: A lack of Datacenter-certified
applications and compatibility problems (especially with
EMC's network storage tools) still need to be resolved.
Milestones: After successful mid-2001 testing, the
city struggled with organizational and technical holdups
but still met its goal of putting the first two ES7000s
into production by year's end.
Kaiser, a former Unisys employee, quickly decided on the ES7000 in January
2001 after reading Unisys' scalability and reliability claims. He knew
his Windows NT 4.0 Compaqs couldn't provide the necessary uptime and manageability
despite a decent reboot record. They were running at barely 25 percent
of capacity, and IT tended to buy more to accommodate demand, which only
exacerbated the support burden.
The ES7000, in contrast, proved to be an efficient powerhouse. After a
demo at Unisys' office in Eagan, Minn., Kaiser and staff moved fast. By
mid-year, Quality Assurance (QA) testing had begun.
The big question was whether Internet Information Server (IIS) 4.x and
SQL Server 2000 applications could co-exist alongside Exchange 2000 inside
the logical servers.
"There's always the risk that one application could impact another,"
says Ray Zabilla, the project manager and chief executive officer of contractor
Bitsolutions LLC in White Bear Lake, Minn.
The two-month test went smoothly, but Zabilla says he learned an important
lesson from it: Microsoft Datacenter Server must be closely managed.
The city bought a second, 8GB, 16-way ES7000 (four four-processor partitions)
with Windows 2000 Advanced Server and Citrix MetaFrame XP for Windows
to extend the life of 233- and 300MHz Pentium II desktops by running applications
remotely on the server. That box will save $700,000 on leasing newer PCs,
according to Jason Powell, director of Information and Technology Services
Politics and Patch Jobs
The ES7000 rollout wasn't without minor
bumps and roadblocks. An unrelated IP addressing problem on fire stations'
DSL routers slowed deployment of a thin-client database until Cisco routers
could be upgraded. And an early version of the server firmware required
partitions to be powered up and shut down in an inconvenient order, but
Unisys quickly installed a fix.
Microsoft's certification process for applications running on Datacenter
Server has caused delays, as have brief hassles with third-party drivers.
One prominent culprit: EMC Corp.'s Symmetrix network storage. Also, EMC's
EDM tape-backup hardware had file-level conflicts with Windows before
the Datacenter installation; resolving the EMC troubles caused an additional
The city is looking into StorageTek and Veritas alternatives but has
meanwhile settled for attaching Digital Linear Tape (DLT) drives directly
to the ES7000s. "It's certainly not an enterprise solution, but it does
provide some backup," says Troy Sprouls, a Unisys pre-sales executive.
Partitions needed tweaking. The city started with eight, four-way partitions,
but Unisys determined two eight-ways (one with passive copies of applications
in case of fail-over) would be more efficient for production servers,
while two four-ways could hold active and passive applications undergoing
The new configuration still leaves eight processors idle, but Zabilla
says the server will be brought up to its maximum of two, 16-way partitions
when the QA environment is moved (and processors added) to the second
The city also gained economies of scale and easier management when Unisys
performed a "rational consolidation" of the applications on
a single instance of Datacenter Server. "It allowed them to add four
additional processors to each of the two production machines," says
Michael Finken, a Unisys technology consultant.
Unisys's ES7000 series has its fingers in several technology
pies. It's unusual in employing Intel processors—32-bit
Pentium III Xeons, with 64-bit Itaniums planned—to provide
up to eight partitionable "servers within a server."
Each server can run NT Server 4.0, Windows 2000 Advanced
Server or Datacenter Server, or SCO Unixware 7.x. A dual-partition
option allows the use of Unisys' Cellular MultiProcessing
(CMP) architecture, a type of symmetric multiprocessing.
The machine's crossbar technology connects the processors
to up to 64GB of shared RAM and 96 PCI slots. Like mainframes,
the ES7000 has load balancing, fail-over and redundant,
hot-swappable power supplies and cooling impellers.
Virtual City of the Future
In addition to saving around $50,000 on Microsoft licenses for the 16
Compaq servers, Kaiser says he'll cut $20,000 for service technicians,
who are paid union rates. "That's an annual number that you have
to pay for people who are on-call, whether they come in or not,"
Now, the city can more easily manage computing resources itself with
bundled software that Unisys re-packages from NetIQ Corp.
For example, the software lets IT define parameters for particular applications,
then automatically re-deploys processing power during demand peaks, such
as in the morning when people check overnight e-mail. "If Exchange isn't
doing much, those processors are freed up for something else," Powell
In addition, a Windows 2000 PC-on-a-card inside each server is dedicated
to monitoring conditions and sending automatic alerts. And Windows 2000
Terminal Services lets technicians perform most maintenance tasks remotely,
including changing the BIOS.
Anecdotal evidence (not to mention SQL Server and Exchange load-simulation
results) point to performance improvements, but Kaiser says current and
likely future applications aren't transaction intensive and won't tax
the system. The primary benefits, he says, are better availability, scalability
The shiny new infrastructure brings Minneapolis into the front ranks
of the "e-government" movement that is also sweeping the federal and state
Kaiser says the need for such guaranteed 24x7 access is more acute at
the municipal level.
"The states are where the rubber meets the sky, and the cities are where
the rubber meets the road," he says. "We have a much closer relationship
with the citizens."