Through server virtualization, multiple applications can operate in their own virtual environment within a single physical server. The technology — a key component in larger data center optimization efforts — allows districts to replace aging hardware, consolidate servers, and improve disaster recovery and data backup. It also simplifies IT management, delivers infrastructure efficiencies and reduces operating costs.
District IT leaders who have implemented virtualization say that there are important steps that must be taken to make server virtualization a reality. These include assessing the current data center environment, determining which applications are candidates for virtualization, convincing district leaders to fund the project and providing training for IT staff. The time and money spent on virtualization typically result in a return on investment encompassing reduced server, support and energy costs; improved productivity; and increased uptime.
Taking this type of phased implementation approach is important, says Chuck Dinsfriend, who recently left his position as director of technology for the 11-school Woodburn School District (WSD) in Woodburn, Ore., to become director of information technology for the International Society for Technology in Education. “It took time for the IT staff to get comfortable with the technology, so that first year, we played with it and put a few non–mission-critical servers on it,” Dinsfriend recalls. “When it seemed stable, we began moving more mission-critical applications.”
Many districts have no choice but to take a phased approach, purchasing new servers, virtualization software licenses and storage area networks as their budgets allow. Dinsfriend originally wanted to virtualize and consolidate WSD’s 70 servers down to a dozen or so within three years, but much work remains due to funding limitations. He says the district hopes to finish the job in the next few years.
“I don’t know too many districts that can forklift out their equipment and virtualize everything in one year,” Dinsfriend says.
Which is why Dinsfriend recommends asking others for help. When Woodburn’s IT department ran into some configuration issues while trying to deploy two new HP servers and an HP (formerly LeftHand Networks) SAN, they hired CDW•G to assess and correctly configure the equipment. CDW•G’s solution architects “made sure everything was set up and configured properly and provided us some training to make sure we could maintain the environment,” he explains.
Along with improved technology efficiencies, districts also benefit from a “return on innovation,” in which schools use the new virtual infrastructure to provide enhanced services and capabilities (such as additional educational applications) to students and staff, says Greg Schulz founder of the Server and StorageIO Group. “It’s about leveraging virtualization to innovate and enhance the learning experience,” he explains.