Oct 08 2008

Avoid a Vacuum

At no time does strategic planning prove more relevant than when preparing to move to a virtualized environment, whether for a large data center or across an entire campus. Virtualization has attracted intense interest from higher education, and for good reason: It provides significant technological and business advantages, as well as bona fide cost savings. But given today’s tight campus budgets, IT cannot afford the luxury of developing any project in a vacuum.

Simply put, server virtualization allows multiple distinct operating systems and applications to reside on one high-performance server. Compared with a virtualized environment, the one-application-per-server model looks incredibly inefficient. Colleges and universities also know that virtualization can help reduce power consumption, rack space and data center cooling requirements.

Consider the Implications

While the return on investment is extremely compelling, IT shops must take into account the consequences that server virtualization might bring in terms of security, fail-over and licensing. The primary consequence involves security: In a virtualized environment, a single compromised server would have far greater impact than a compromised physical server. Security measures that held for traditional one-for-one servers no longer apply. With virtualization, instead of losing one OS or a limited suite of applications, you stand to lose much more.

Some colleges and universities make sure that mission-critical applications run on dual servers. One server runs a virtualized environment, while the other provides a fail-over backup designated to run priority applications. Some institutions also make sure sensitive information is not on a virtualized server, because a compromise of one server in a virtual configuration could affect all servers.

Details Matter

You also have to consider what happens if your virtualized server fails, and how this affects the university’s business plan. For instance, with less critical applications, a one-to-many fail-over strategy is cost-effective. In this strategy, many virtualized servers are backed by a single server in lieu of a one-to-one backup. A single backup might prove more time-consuming to reconfigure, but less complicated licensing and reduced rack space and power requirements could balance that out.

Once you roll out the VMs, your IT organization will need to rethink how it manages its assets and keeps track of software licensing. An inventory of users on a virtual server isn’t as straightforward as it is with a dedicated server. You may very well need to modify licensing agreements in order to run your programs in a virtual environment. That means doing some upfront legwork to make sure you know what you’re running and where you’re running it, and then applying the licensing details.

Virtualization changes not only the economic dynamics in the data center, it alters operational dynamics as well. IT managers and university administrators need to understand what virtualization will bring operationally to achieve the most benefits in the least amount of time.

Virtualization Needs Explanation

A study found that of 150 CIOs and technology officers from around the world, 55 percent say cultural changes in management and increased investment in staff training are needed when virtualizing operations.