Phil Kline says server virtualization saved the Coweta County School District in Georgia $180,000 in replacement costs alone.

Jan 11 2011

Virtual Lessons

Server virtualization lets the Coweta County School District in Georgia manage backup centrally and save nearly $200,000.

Server virtualization lets the Coweta County School District in Georgia manage backup centrally and save nearly $200,000.

February 2011 E-newsletter

Virtual Lessons

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The Coweta County School District is embracing server virtualization as part of a strategy to centrally manage data backup and expects to save at least $180,000 in replacement costs alone while upgrading to virtual servers.

Before embarking on its virtualization strategy, the 23,000-student Georgia school district maintained an average of two to three servers in each one of its 35 locations. That meant all data backups – think lesson plans, student coursework and so on – had to take place locally and be managed by technicians in those facilities. So backup became a hit-or-miss proposition.

“Ensuring that [backup] got done was an impossible task,” explains Phil Kline, technology coordinator for the district, which has 2,200 staff members. “We had expectations, but found it was not getting done.”

The district deployed VMware ESX and retired roughly 40 servers that were dispersed around its facilities with 13 virtual servers hosted in three physical servers. “If we were to replace those 40 servers at $6,000 apiece, you're talking about $240,000 versus about $60,000” for virtualized systems, Kline explains.

The VMware setup makes it easier to configure and manage infrastructure centrally, Kline says, as opposed to relying on IT staff in remote locations to complete those tasks.

“We looked at the interface and the user's ability to manipulate servers themselves,” Kline explains. “This gave us the ability for servers to be expanded via the software instead of having to change hardware configurations.”

Using centralized virtual servers to manage backup has improved data reliability and predictability, says Kathy Payton, field service engineer in the Coweta schools. The technicians and other IT professionals who were tasked with managing those functions locally can now focus on other functions.

Now that the virtualization initiative is under way and working as expected, the Coweta district is planning its next steps to further leverage the technology. It will introduce three new physical servers with virtualized capabilities in early 2011. The district is also looking to replicate its data center infrastructure at an offsite location so that a major system or power failure would result in failover to other systems without any interruption in service.

Economic Benefits

By virtualizing its servers, Coweta is looking for the same cost benefits and management efficiencies that many other districts are applying nationwide.

“Server consolidation and virtualization can really help on the economic side,” says Bernard Golden, CEO for the cloud computing consultancy HyperStratus.

The estimated number of virtual machines deployed per physical host by 2014


“You can use one server to support applications that required maybe five different servers before,” he says. “One-fifth of one server is clearly cheaper than a full server.”

By deploying VMware, Great Neck Public Schools in Great Neck, N.Y., hopes to achieve the kind of cost savings Golden talks about.

“Our core goals are to save money on the replacement cost of physical servers and make it easier to deploy new servers or recovered downed servers,” says Marc Epstein, the district's technology director.

Virtualize to the Cloud

The Enlarged City School District of Middletown in Middletown, N.Y., is virtualizing at the server and client levels to lay the groundwork for cloud computing.

“We have about 35 servers right now that we want to condense down to a blade environment to run our whole district,” says Michael Tuttle, director of technology.  “We'd probably go to 16 physical servers, then virtualize from there.”

Middletown is virtualizing with blade servers running Microsoft Hyper-V. The district selected Microsoft virtualization technology because of its tight integration with Microsoft's operating system platform. Because the 16 servers are centralized blades, they'll also save a great deal of space.

“Our older servers are starting to reach end of life, so we had to decide if we put money into more servers or buy blades, [which would let us] have one server with 10 virtual servers,” Tuttle says

With 6,900 students and 580 teachers, Middletown schools have about 4,000 computers, which typically get reimaged as part of updates during the summer. The virtualization push will help there as well. While imaging a single computer with new software takes 30 to 45 minutes, Tuttle expects the district to be able to execute centralized updates in 30 minutes or so, at which point all 4,000 computers will have instant access to that updated configuration. “That's the big vision,” Tuttle says. 
Tuttle agrees with experts who say a virtualized environment will require new IT skills in the education market. “It's less about changing memory and hard drives, and more about understanding server back ends and networking,” he says, particularly because the district is looking to make a broader shift to cloud computing, with more computing capacity accessible over the Internet.

<p>Quantrell Colbert</p>

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