Steve, R&D Manager at Fusion

Virtual Computing for Lean Contract Manufacturers

Nowadays, contract manufacturers are striving to become a Lean Enterprise – applying Lean Thinking to all areas of the business. This is most apparent in the front office, where getting administrative employees focused on continuous improvement and the customers’ needs can boost profit margins and transform a company into a highly efficient operation. An area of the business that is frequently overlooked is Information Technology, or IT. At Fusion, we have chosen to implement a server virtualization strategy to reduce costs, increase efficiency and optimize resources.

The benefits of this server visualization strategy are many. We use virtual machines, which are simulations of a computer system that run based on the structure and functions of a real or hypothetical computer. Virtual computing provides increased efficiency by allocating a computer’s processes to a virtual environment, making the computer available for other processes. As a result, we achieve faster system speeds due to freeing up the system, memory and storage. In addition, we also realize the following benefits:

Security. A key advantage of a virtual machine is the fact that you’re able to run a second operating system on your machine while it is in a “sandbox”. A “sandbox” acts as a virtual partition, meaning that you are able to run a system and it will not affect the other parts of the machine. Therefore, with the second operating system in the virtual machine you are able to do things that you normally wouldn’t do with your regular system – experimenting with new software is a popular example.

Scalability. Virtualized machines allow scalability on demand without having to add physical resources. Cloning a virtual machine takes just a few clicks and a matter of seconds, whereas cloning a physical machine can be a serious undertaking. Additionally, virtual machines can be expanded much easier than in an actual, physical machine – adding additional RAM to a virtual machine can be done in minutes, compared to dozens of minutes for a physical computer. Similarly hard drives can be made larger in minutes compared to hours on a physical system.

Reduced Costs. A typical non-virtualized server may reach just 5% to 10% utilization. But a virtual server hosting multiple virtual machines can easily reach 50% to 80% utilization. The net result is that more virtual machines can be hosted on fewer physical servers, which means lower costs for hardware acquisition, maintenance, energy and cooling system usage. Additionally, migrating physical servers over to virtual machines and consolidating them onto far fewer physical servers means lowered monthly power costs. Lastly, server consolidation with virtualization will reduces the amount of space required, meaning far fewer servers, less networking gear, a smaller number of racks needed – all resulting in significant savings.

Efficiency. By distributing load across virtualized computers, virtual hosts are able to ensure high availability of applications and data. Even if one server fails, another virtual machine can be booted with minimal downtime or data loss. Virtualization and cloud computing offer powerful solutions for data backup and recovery. Even if hardware should fail, virtual machines can instantaneously and accurately migrate data to working hardware with little or no downtime.

Beyond server virtualization, Fusion has extended the concept further to our Engineering Department, which allows us to support legacy equipment by maintaining virtual machines with older operating systems. Often times, the legacy programming software is not capable of properly running on today’s newer operating systems. With Virtual Machines, this is no longer an issue.

Forward-thinking companies in the manufacturing industry should consider adopting virtualization for many reasons: it provides high availability for critical applications, and streamlines application deployment and migrations. Virtualization has simplified our IT operations and allowed us to respond faster to changing business demands. It could save your business money and your data in case of disaster.