Virtualization can sometimes cause IT headaches, Herleman says.

Virtualization can sometimes cause IT headaches, Herleman says.

Using one computer to power many has saved money as school budgets have been slashed, but too much of this good thing can lead to “virtualization sprawl”—an emerging problem that one campus IT leader is determined to avoid.

Karl Herleman, CIO at Miami Dade College (MDC), has, like many technology decision makers, moved his eight-campus school toward virtualization in the past three years. This means one computer in a campus computer lab can power several machines, reducing the IT department’s costs and saving the college on its monthly energy bills.

MDC has trimmed its energy consumption by 10 percent since 2008, thanks largely to virtualization, Herleman said.

And while virtualizing computers and trimming budgets will bring a smile to the faces of deans and provosts, Herleman said, creating too many virtualized machines on a college campus can create a “sprawl” effect that makes it difficult for the college’s IT team to manage the growing number of computers.

“You look at [virtualizing computers] and think, ‘Wow, it’s so easy to create these virtual machines and eliminate the need to buy a bunch of hardware,’” said Herleman, 45, MDC’s CIO for four years after working for technology research company Gartner as an enterprise architect for seven years. “Then you realize you have to deal with a whole new set of problems that come along with that. It can sometimes be worse than it was before you [virtualized machines].”

Colleges and universities will encounter virtualization sprawl if technology officials approve a new computer to support a simple internet application, for example, when that program easily could have been stored on an existing campus server.