‘Data center in a box’ could ease virtual computing

The product "makes the architecture—for storage, for virtualization—much simpler than … what everyone else is doing," one beta tester said.

Managing a virtual computing environment can be challenging for school technology departments, which traditionally have had to buy separate servers and software and then piece everything together—often with a limited budget and staffing. Now, a new disruptive technology aims to help schools and other organizations cut costs and streamline the deployment of virtual computing by combining servers, storage, and virtualization in a single box.

The new product, HC3 from Scale Computing, converges all of these elements—servers, storage, and virtualization software—in one stack. Currently in beta testing and expected to be released later this summer, the product reportedly will enable school technology staff to set up and provision multiple virtual machines and assign software, memory, and storage from a single, eRate-eligible device.

As educators become more dependent on systems such as gradebook software and online assessments, any failure of those systems can cripple a school’s function. To safeguard against losing important data, school technology departments often set up multiple server systems so that if one server fails, all the information it contains will move over to another server. But more data requires more servers, and more servers come with increased maintenance needs.

With the HC3 system, “you’ve collapsed the architecture, and you get something more resilient and more portable. So if something fails, you’re not adding another box,” said Jefferson Davis, technology and information systems manager for Standard School District in Bakersfield, Calif., and a beta tester for the product.

For more news about virtual computing, see:

Virtual Computing: Saving Time, Money, and Headaches

If schools need additional horsepower to run more virtual systems, they can add another HC3 node into the cluster without breaking the sense of managing a single-server system. By using an average cluster size of four to eight nodes for about 50 to 100 virtual machines, schools can ensure their applications run faster and host more applications. Even if any server fails, information on the server will move to other parts of the system without requiring manual maintenance, Scale Computing claims.

“Instead of adding more virtualization servers, [if] I don’t have capacity in my HC3 cluster, I just add another node. I don’t have another set of hardware that I’ve got to monitor,” said Brian Beck, chief technology officer for the Greater Educational Opportunities Foundation charter schools in Indianapolis and another beta tester.

Ordinarily, schools must purchase multiple servers, storage devices, and virtualization software separately. But because each HC3 node contains all of these components in a single device, schools can see savings of 50 percent or more, depending on the size of the deployment, Scale Computing says. A basic four-node cluster, with three years of 24-7 customer support, virtualization software licensing, and replication capabilities, would cost around $30,000. Buying those parts piece by piece could cost about $75,000, said Jeff Ready, CEO of Scale Computing.

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