Universities find the virtualization ‘sweet spot’

“It’s easy to say, ‘Throw another server up for me,’” said Jonathan Domen, an IT network analyst at Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., where ed-tech decision makers transitioned to virtual servers with the help of network solutions company Bradford Networks. “As great as [server virtualization] is, it’s also a potential negative because it’s so easy to do it. … It can get unmanageable.”

Establishing strict provisions for when ed-tech staffers can add another virtual server to the school’s network, Domen said, is a key to avoiding a glut of servers. Implementing patches and security upgrades with so many virtual servers could waste staff time, he explained.

“You have to include solid policies up front,” he said. “Otherwise it could get a little out of control.”

Managing virtual servers allows campus technology staff to capture an invaluable “snapshot” of the school’s network before a major upgrade is started that could lead to data loss. Having that snapshot handy, Domen said, would help ed-tech officials avoid having to “rebuild the system if something goes wrong.”

If server virtualization is combined with policies that put the brakes on a server overload, the benefits of managing off-campus servers will be realized within weeks of the transition, ed-tech leaders say.

Dan Lichter, director of systems and network infrastructure at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, said that before server virtualization took hold at the school, faculty members who requested a new server would have to wait weeks—even a month, sometimes—before the IT department could order, receive, install, and update the equipment.

Now, Lichter said, filling faculty server requests takes a day or so.

“It has really become a no-brainer, and user satisfaction [has gone] way up,” he said. “In fact, they’re already a little spoiled from that.”

There has always been an efficiency sweet spot for sever use. Using physical servers at about 70 percent of their capacity has been a longtime goal in campus technology departments, because the equipment uses the same amount of electricity whether it runs at 10 percent of capacity or 70 percent, Lichter said.

Denny Carter

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