Virtual Servers

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Years ago when servers had just one or two processors and only a couple of gigabytes of memory, it was not very easy to run more than a couple of computing tasks at one time. If you needed a server, you had to buy your own at a substantial cost.

In recent years, computing technology has grown by leaps and bounds. While our current generation of servers can have sixteen processor cores and almost a terabyte of memory, there is almost no task big enough to require this kind of power in our environment. Even the least expensive server we can buy, for around $4,000, has twelve cores and 16GB memory.

Now virtualization has become really useful--running multiple independent servers on a single piece of hardware, under the virtualization hypervisor, offers a way to make use of all the excess power in a modern server.

Our Server Infrastructure

CLA-OIT is running more than 120 virtual servers on 10 physical servers using VMWare's technology. This saves a tremendous amount of money and makes it very easy to create new servers. While it might take weeks to choose, order, receive, and configure a new physical server, we can create a virtual server in a couple days, (or hours, if needed).


Virtualization is a great convenience for system administrators, and wonderful news for accountants, but why might it be important to you? Imagine a research project or a class needs a single-purpose "simple" server that does not require a lot of horsepower. Spending thousands of dollars on a physical machine that will be 90% idle is not the best idea, and running server software on an office computer is even worse. Our no cost virtual server hosting service makes it easier to build prototypes, initiate pilot projects, or support classroom work that lack funding for hardware investments.

In addition to the ease and speed of creating new servers, virtualization offers great benefits in redundancy and high availability. For example, if you are using a physical server, any hardware failure means that you are dead in the water until the server is repaired. Since our virtualization environment in composed of servers working in tandem (in a cluster), a hardware failure is just an inconvenience--it is only a matter of minutes to move virtual servers that were running on a failed piece of hardware to the next available server. Over the next couple of years, we will be working to enhance this capability, so that our virtual infrastructure will be able to keep running even when the University's entire datacenter is unavailable.


One downside of virtualization is server "sprawl," which is what happens when it is so easy to get a new server. Five years ago, when we first started our virtualization project, we had fewer than 100 servers. Today, we have more than 300--most of them virtual. Even though we tripled the number of servers we're running, we haven't tripled our staff so we must find ways to make running servers easier. Standardization and manageability have become key points for our server design. When you request a virtual server we will ask you to follow our standards, and you might have to reconsider certain decisions to fit those standards.

Requesting a Server

If you have a server-related need, we want to hear from you--even if it is about a service we aren't currently offering. While a dedicated virtual server may be the right answer, we offer many options. In any case, our staff will go through an in-depth planning process with you to ensure we find the solution that best meets your needs.

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This page contains a single entry by College of Liberal Arts OIT published on June 6, 2012 11:44 AM.

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