A Virtual Good Idea: Virtualization Software Allows Districts to Stretch Dollars, Conserve Resources

By Bolch, Matt | Technology & Learning, June 2009 | Go to article overview

A Virtual Good Idea: Virtualization Software Allows Districts to Stretch Dollars, Conserve Resources


Bolch, Matt, Technology & Learning


School districts across the country have always had to do more with Less. Funding goes only so far, leaving administrators and IT staff to find innovative ways to save money while maintaining a high level, of academic quality.

Creating virtual, servers accomplishes both tasks, district technology personnel say. Virtual. environments not only allow districts to use fewer servers, but they also often enhance performance, saving their users money on electricity and the cost of new equipment.

In the current business climate, virtualization may well be one of the very few win-win situations.

SUPERIOR PERFORMANCE, QUICK ROI FROM VMWARE

Not many technology projects can achieve ROI in a single year, but the School. District of the Chathams' server-virtualization project did just that.

The six-school., 3,700-student K-12 district reduced the number of servers it uses by 60 percent, from 44 to 18, reports John Abdelmalak, director of technology for the district, which is based in Chatham, New Jersey. Three Dell servers in the data center run VMware ESX to allow virtualization, and a server in each of the district's six sites runs VMware's free ESXi software. Local servers run a domain controller, a deployment server, and antivirus software, while the data-center servers perform mission-critical functions. As a side benefit, the district is saving an estimated $30,000 a year in electricity costs by running fewer servers.

Last year, Abdelmalak attended a Dell Lunch and Learn about virtualization that piqued his interest. "It took us several years to get on a technology refresh cycle in the district," says Abdelmalak, who joined the

Chathams four years ago but has been in education IT for more than 13 years. "'We were replacing seven to eight servers every summer, which is a tot of money and a Lot of manpower to decommission old servers and transfer operations to new ones."

The IT director asked Dell to look at the district's server environment, and the company brought in VMware to perform a virtualization-readiness assessment, which Looks at memory, processor, and network utilization, along with disk I/O. The only two servers with higher than average usage were the e-mail, and e-mail-archive servers.

After making the decision to virtualize, the district contracted with Dell for a four-day workshop to Learn the basics and start the process. The hands-on experience was critical. says Abdelmalak, allowing his staff to get two virtual machines up and running while becoming comfortable with the principles and practicalities involved.

ROI has already been achieved, since the district bought just three servers last year and plans to purchase none this year. "Virtualization made financial sense," Abdelmalak says. "We're operating fewer servers with increased performance. It's been a home run, basically."

VIRTUAL IRON PERFORMS AT A GOOD PRICE

Who in his right mind would upgrade server software during the school, day?

Lane Virgin, for one.

Virgin, systems administrator for Bonneville (Idaho) Joint School District 93, says the virtualization solution from Virtual Iron has helped the district reduce its physical server count by 13 while offering unparalleled reliability.

"Virtual Iron puts out periodic updates, and I can turn on one of the Dell [PowerEdge] R900 servers, run the upgrade, migrate the virtual servers to that machine, and upgrade the other one," says Virgin, who's been with the 18-school, 9,500-student district for seven years. "I can do it on the fly, even at 2 p.m. on a Monday."

The district's new energy czar appreciates the load balancing that the Virtual Iron solution brings. Virgin can set thresholds that enable servers to conserve power without their performance being affected. If demand exceeds the threshold, another server comes on automatically to balance the load.

The department looked at solutions from VMware, Parallels Virtuozzo, and Xen before choosing Virtual Iron. …

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