What to Ask before You Virtualize
By this time, a majority of Information Technology administrators have at least envisioned the Promised Land of Virtualization, and some have already spent some time there and like it a lot. As CNETNews.com writer Stephen Shankland says, "Inserting a virtual layer can be liberating." But there are still factors to consider before moving to Virtual Land, and they can range from finances to security to the psychology of the end-users.
A White Paper from CiRBA (Configuration item Request Broker Architecture) called "How to Choose the Right Virtualization Technology for your Environment" describes the benefits of virtualization:
"By providing fractional ownership of a system's resources (along with security and operational isolation), multiple applications can coexist on a common hardware platform with relatively little risk. This enables leveraging of economies of scale in the data center, and brings huge benefits in cost savings."
So, virtualization means many applications, one platform; many programs, less energy expenditure; and many tasks, less time to do them. It's not a surprise that those higher education departments that have made the change are glad to have done so. Keiser University associate vice chancellor of Management Information Systems Andrew Lee brought his group over to virtualization in early 2008. "I've been here 10 years," he says, "and it's one of the best and easiest things I've done . . . We just rave about this." And DePaul University associate vice president of Information Technology Joe Salwach thinks that virtualization has benefited every one of DePaul's 26,000 students. He has a recommendation for others:
"Take a look at some of your legacy applications, the ones that are underutilized. Then partner with Dell or IBM, etc., and do a pilot to try to virtualize one box into 12 slices, and see what happens. Then you have to start thinking about the ways to manage these boxes."
Another benefit, of course--besides the ease of installation, the eventual cost savings, the increased rapidity of access to data, and the ability to change servers more quickly--is the "green" factor. Salwach says that students in particular are readily on board when a virtualized computer lab, for example, is environmentally friendly.
Still, there are issues. Joseph Lazor is the director for Information Resource Management at Florida State University. He offers several questions that universities have to consider before implementing virtualization in their data centers: "How much $$$$ do you have? What usage do you predict? What services need to be offered? What vendor will be providing the mainframe hardware?" In Florida as in other states, funding is a big issue. And Salwach points out that DePaul didn't so much reduce costs as shift them from hardware to software management.
The CiRBA White Paper addresses other questions that universities should consider before virtualizing:
How important is it to move applications between physical servers without disrupting them?
How scalable is the underlying architecture? Are there "robust backplane interconnects, superior caching models, high context switching capacity"?
How secure is the new framework?
CiRBA, though, is positively rosy when it comes to the opportunities for universities: "Choice is good. It seems that there is a new entrant in the virtualization space on a weekly basis, which gives organizations more and more flexibility in how they transform their environments. For a specific area of an IT environment that is performing a specific function at a specific level of service, the odds are there is a virtualization solution that will be very well suited to the task."
That's good news for people like Judd Knott, the assistant vice chancellor for IT Infrastructure and Operations at the University of North Carolina (UNC). His data center is responsible for administrative and academic computing. It provides services across the campus, including mail, calendars, emergency communications, and monitoring of police and fire channels.
Two years ago, UNC renovated its 48-year-old data center ("Everything you wouldn't want in a data center," says Knott). And last year, they built something specifically for IT: 11,000 square feet, 2 1/2 megawatts of power. They even brought the staff out of the basement (When they moved, says Knott, they complained about too much light and started blocking out windows). Virtualization is a major part of the overhaul because of all the increased demand; they now have several hundred servers virtualized. And Knott says that services have improved; there is, he says, an ésprit de corps.
But perhaps the most hopeful facet of the ever-burgeoning age of virtualization is the way that IT leaders across the country have been singing its praises. DePaul's Joe Salwach says, "You like to internally evangelize things. I like to get things going, like to get people to grab it; that frees me up to go on to what's next."
Joe Salwach, DePaul University
"The big savings is in the way you manage these servers."
Judson Knott, University of North Carolina
"We were looking for solutions to get rid of the junk as quickly as we could."
CDW-G Virtualization Podcast: Coming Soon.