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A SQL Server container can help cut licensing costs

Running one database per server needlessly wastes hardware resources and money. Use a SQL Server container to stack multiple instances per virtual machine.

Sonoco is a global manufacturer of consumer packaging and provider of packaging supply-chain services. Based in Hartsville, S.C., a two-hour drive from Charlotte, the company was founded in 1899 as the Southern Novelty Company. Sonoco has hundreds of plants in 34 countries, employs about 20,000 and generated revenue of $4.9 billion in 2015. Database administrator Tammy Lawson spoke with SearchCloudApplications about the company's database environment and use of a SQL Server container to cut costs.

Can you describe Sonoco's SQL Server environment?

Tammy Lawson: I am the primary SQL Server database administrator. In North America, Sonoco has about 200 SQL Servers, plus more in Europe and Australia. Ten are on the old HP PolyServe clustering software and about 60 use DxEnterprise from DH2i. Others are either in our data centers or in remote manufacturing plants.

(Editor's note: PolyServe was a provider of clustered file system software that HP acquired in 2007. HP discontinued support for PolyServe as of March 1, 2014.)

As a database administrator, what is your primary role?

Lawson: My role is to keep things running. Depending on the role of the application or database, if it's down, Sonoco is not producing product, can't ship product and can't forecast.

Do Sonoco's manufacturing operations run on SQL Server?

Lawson: Our primary manufacturing system is Oracle, and all of our plants will eventually migrate to that. Some manufacturing plants we've acquired came with a SQL back end, but will eventually migrate to Oracle.

Will this be a migration to the cloud?

Lawson: It's all on-premises. We do not have anything in the cloud. My main concern is that we have enough issues with network performance within our own data centers.

When a developer needs a new SQL Server instance, I can spin that up in a matter of minutes. We used to have to go through hoops to do that.
Tammy Lawsondatabase administrator, Sonoco

Isn't Sonoco's infrastructure already mostly off-premises? Many would call that a private cloud.

Lawson: About eight years ago we moved 95% of the hardware from our headquarters data center in South Carolina to Acxiom [rebranded in January 2016 as Ensono] in Downers Grove, Ill. It boiled down to cost. Our data center needed to be updated with new HVAC, so that was a justification and opportunity. Some people were let go at that time in OS [operating system] and network administration.

What version of SQL Server does Sonoco run?

Lawson: We have everything from SQL 2000 up to SQL 2014. We run a lot of legacy systems that require older, unsupported versions. Until those applications get replaced or just die, we have to keep them running. Some are on Windows Server 2003, which is no longer supported. I'm in the midst of a project to see where we can migrate databases to newer versions.

Sonoco turned to DxEnterprise Windows container technology from DH2i to help manage SQL Server workloads. What benefits have you seen?

Lawson: As long as we're dealing with a SQL database that does not need to be at one of our hundreds of remote plants or local to a user, it lives on our DxEnterprise cluster in Illinois. If someone needs a new database it goes on DxEnterprise. We are now up to 61 SQL instances running on four servers. One server is for development, and the other three for production.

How does that help developers do their jobs?

Lawson: When a developer needs a new SQL Server instance, I can spin that up in a matter of minutes. We used to have to go through hoops to do that. When it's no longer needed, I can spin it back down very quickly.

Sonoco outsourced its infrastructure to cut costs. Is that also true for the move to stack database instances through SQL Server containers in DxEnterprise?

Lawson: If each of my 61 containerized SQL instances was on its own server, the SQL Standard license for each server would be around $16K -- using 2x8 AMD processors in my calculation, since that is what my DxEnterprise physical servers are. That is a total of $976,000 just for Standard licenses. Buying SQL for my 4 DxEnterprise cluster nodes -- $65K -- plus the DxEnterprise software came nowhere close to this number. [It is a] big savings in the licensing department.

How does the math work out if you stayed on standalone servers instead of stacking with a SQL Server container?

Lawson: Even if I was to go with 1x8 processors for standalone servers, the total licensing cost would be around $326K -- $5,360 each. That is still way more than the DxEnterprise solution. This does not take into account the cost of hardware and OS for 61 servers. Not to mention the management of them.

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