Computing Services has been working over the last several years to migrate away from physical hardware, onto virtual servers (where possible.) This is a general trend across the IT industry, which lowers the total cost of ownership ("TCO") for supporting large numbers of servers. We still manage these virtual servers, but they live within 1 or 2 larger servers. In our case, we use VMWare. With fewer physical boxes to manage, we can focus our time on the important things: supporting the campus through new and innovative applications.
For a little over a year, the Office of Information Technology (OIT) at the Twin Cities has provided managed virtual server hosting. This has been a boon to colleges and campuses across the University. It helps us to conserve our limited resources even further: OIT manages the virtual servers, and we support the applications. It is an opportunity to off-load the systems that require the most attention. Again, this allows us to focus more on the campus needs, and less on the "heavy lifting" of supporting servers.
In the next few years, OIT will move to a "datacenter in a box" concept, that will lower the operating costs of new servers. In turn, this consolidation may allow OIT to support more virtual servers.
This consolidation is becoming more popular across colleges and universities. Bridget McCrea wrote in Campus Technology about Taking College IT Out Of the Hardware Business. The article describes one college's effort to reduce their datacenter "footprint" by centralizing their virtual servers.
Babson College in Massachusetts has overhauled its back-end computing operations with a $1.7 million "datacenter in a box." The college considered several options, and did shop around for solutions before coming back to the group of vendors that was selling "a datacenter in a box." Key criteria for the new solution included the ability to provision quickly, address Babson College's resource management challenges, and scale up as the school grew.
The new setup has also allowed the college to go from roughly 15 racks in its datacenter (arranged in three rows of five racks) to a total of two. Two additional racks will be located offsite. That's a big win for consolidation.
And according to CIO Sam Dunn: "In the future--if it's financially beneficial and if it will result in better performance--we'll be able to slide servers out into Amazon, to Google's cloud, or wherever else we want." Clearly, Dunn is thinking not just about the next 1-2 years, but positioning IT for the next 5-10.
This requires a whole new way of thinking about "campus IT". It's no longer about supporting hardware. Like email before it, hardware is becoming a "commodity", easier to outsource than manage on our own. We shouldn't fear this change, but instead find new ways to leverage it.