Mar 18 2010

Virtualization Paves the Way

One Georgia college tackles high desktop costs using server virtualization.
April 2010 E-newsletter

Key Considerations for Virtualization

Balancing the Virtual Load

Managing Servers Hosting Hyper-V

Symantec Backup Exec Agent for VMware

Server Virtualization Paves The Way

At the Heart of Georgia Technical College in Dublin, Ga., server virtualization paved the way for the college to solve its desktop issues.

“The cost of supporting 1,200 desktops was very high,” says Todd Townsend, director of information technology. “And the need to replace them as they got older was busting our budget.”

Desktop virtualization lets the school centralize support, use thin clients and give students and faculty access to their desktops regardless of location, even when they're off campus.

“Our students wanted to have the same working desktop at home as they have at the lab in school,” says Townsend. “Desktop virtualization gives them that option.”

But adding so much extra activity to the already overburdened physical server farm created its own set of problems. New servers would have to be bought and installed, power costs would rise, and because the machines were running 24 hours, updates would require knocking some users off their desktops at times.

The solution for Heart of Georgia was to implement Citrix Systems XenServer at the same time that it rolled out Citrix XenDesktop. The virtual server software partitions one physical server into a number of virtual machines, each of which has the functionality of a standard physical server. Also, the virtual desktop product lets users access standard Windows or Linux desktops that are actually running on the servers.

Townsend hopes to see more than $100,000 in power savings each year after the server and desktop virtualization project is complete. He says the college reduced its server farm from 30 servers to 10 while at the same time adding 1,200 virtual desktops. This lets Townsend extend the life of existing PCs and add lower-cost thin clients when a machine has to be replaced.

50% Percentage of IT professionals among 200 surveyed at the EDUCAUSE conference who said they had virtual servers and provisioning in place.

Source: Citrix Systems

Desktop virtualization users tend to be a demanding lot because they are accustomed to the high availability and speed of standard client desktops and notebooks. Townsend accommodates these users without requiring them to log off by moving virtual servers from one physical machine to another using the XenMotion feature in XenServer. And since the virtual desktops access the massive amount of memory and powerful CPU of the physical servers, some applications actually run faster.

“Most of our users either see no difference or they find the new system faster and more available,” Townsend says.

Chris Wolf, senior analyst at the Burton Group, says most large universities have deployed server virtualization.

“They're looking for reduced power consumption, better utilization of the physical server, and the agility to relocate workloads when a server goes down or for maintenance,” Wolf says.

Wolf says most schools see an ROI in six to nine months based on lower power consumption, reduced need for new physical servers, lower support costs, and the elimination of construction and real estate costs that would result from adding more space for additional server racks.

5 Best Practices

Here are tips for a successful server virtualization project.

  1. Replace outdated hardware. The latest generation of servers will render the best virtual server performance.
  2. Move to shared storage. Many of the best features of virtualization will be enhanced with shared storage.
  3. Plan for high availability. Implement high availability options, such as multipathing.
  4. Use virtualization management tools. Consider using virtual-server-specific backup processes and tools.
  5. Think about virtualization's impact on the network. Account for the interaction of the new virtual networks with the existing networks.

Source: Citrix Systems