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Server virtualization to save $21K annually

For Information Technology, economics and environmentalism are one and the same
Feb 16, 2010
By Monica Chapman

As universities across Ohio struggle to meet stringent energy consumption guidelines in the midst of a statewide budget crunch, server virtualization promises to ease both burdens.

With virtualization, a large server is partitioned to do the work of multiple servers, which yields energy savings and, subsequently, cost savings. Ohio University?s server virtualization initiative is projected to save the institution $21,000 over the next year, thanks to energy savings of more than 420,000 KwH, according to the Office of Information Technology.

?When you buy an individual server for one job, it doesn?t use its full capacity. The result is inefficiency,? said Chief Information Officer Brice Bible. ?Virtualization allows you to use every bit of energy in one server.?

OHIO?s Office of Information Technology (OIT) has been working on virtualizing their data center since 2008. To date, 161 servers have been decommissioned, representing a one-time savings of approximately $350,000 in hardware costs and licensing fees. Ohio University now uses only 22 physical computers to support a total of 204 virtual servers.

The virtualization initiative received extra incentive last spring, when graduate student Gregory Campbell released his findings on potential cost- and energy savings to the university.

Hired through a partnership between IT and the Scripps College of Communication, Campbell was tasked with finding areas where IT could save energy and money through efficiency as well as analyzing true savings against vendor claims. His report, ?Virtualization as a Green IT Technology at Ohio University,? supports two projects in this area: server and desktop virtualization.

According to Bible, Ohio University has one of the largest virtual environments among public post-secondary institutions in the state. Currently, there are between 600 and 700 servers  at the university, including about 400 in the university data center. Of these, 204 are virtual servers, and OIT expects to virtualize an additional 200 in the near future.

?There are some applications that aren?t suited to this, so we?ll always have some standalone servers,? Bible said. ?But I?d like to move as many into this virtual environment as we can.?

Although the energy savings resulting from Ohio University?s server virtualization project are relatively small ? 0.11 percent of the university?s entire electricity draw from 2008, at the time of Campbell?s report ? every little bit helps in meeting energy requirements set forth by Ohio House Bill 251. Passed in January 2007, the bill aims to cut building energy consumption by at least 20 percent at all publicly funded universities by 2014, measured against a 2004 benchmark.

The virtualization initiative also plays into President Roderick J. McDavis? directive for IT consolidation. So far, IT has inventoried 200 servers in the colleges that will move to the central location, and largely to the virtual environment, by the June 30 deadline, said Bible.

The buck doesn?t stop with server virtualization. The university is also studying desktop virtualization, which stands to save even more energy than Ohio University?s server virtualization project.

In desktop virtualization, traditional workstations are replaced by thin clients, low-power video display units that contain no on-board computer processing. Many thin clients communicate with a central server, which provides the computational component.

?In a way, IT has come full circle with virtual desktops,? said IT Communications Manager Sean O?Malley. ?In the 70s, everyone used ?dumb terminals? that were wired into a central mainframe. Then PCs came along, offering features way beyond what the networks of the time could deliver, and computers became self-sufficient little islands. With the rise of high-speed networks, people have begun revisiting the idea of desktop computers that get their ?brains? from a central server.?

By concentrating the computing of many machines, the result is a net savings in electricity, notes Campbell?s report, which estimates energy savings of $100,723 per year if 2,000 users were to convert to a virtual desktop environment. 

Pilots to test the feasibility of desktop virtualization at Ohio University are currently underway and will be evaluated this summer, according to Bible. Along with energy utilization, OIT also will evaluate the hardware and software costs of PCs versus the thin client/central server combination.

?We?ll deploy it where it makes sense,? Bible said. ?But it is the long-term strategy.?


Published: Feb 16, 2010 3:40 PM

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