Server virtualization makes IT a little greener

It’s no secret that computers are everywhere these days, and Penn State is no exception to the rule. Many University departments and offices are finding themselves packed to the brim with server racks, processing units and microprocessors — often tangled together under desks, sprawling on shelves and spilling out of closets.

To combat this problem, a group on campus is working to reduce “server sprawl,” maintenance costs and Penn State’s carbon footprint by providing a server virtualization service through Virtual Machine (VM) hosting.

“Virtualization is one tool in our ever-changing IT toolbox,” said Matt Scott, manager of the development and infrastructure team in Information Technology Services (ITS). “We believe it’s a powerful one, and as a central IT group we want to make it available to as much of the University as possible by providing IT alternatives that are both green and truly helpful.”

At its core, VM hosting is all about consolidation — taking multiple servers and virtualizing them so they fit onto one physical machine, enabling multiple operating systems, applications and servers to run on a single physical server simultaneously. Scott said clients have reported increased security and reliability, reclaimed staff time, flexibility when deploying new services, as well as helpful on-demand consulting for complex configurations, among other benefits.

The service can save departments and units money while also working towards creating a “greener” workplace by enhancing efficiency and sustainability. Virtualization saves energy by eliminating the power previously needed to run more hardware. Experts estimate that energy costs can be reduced by up to 80 percent, with each server virtualized, saving a potential 7,000 kilowatt-hours a year. Less servers also means lower cooling needs and maintenance costs.

“Good stewardship of resources means reducing waste and maximizing efficiency,” explained Scott. “If we can reduce the number of physical systems deployed and move those workloads to systems already running, we not only get more work for the energy consumed, but we reduce the need for electronic recycling and physical disposal.”

Server virtualization also contributes to the elimination of electronic waste, or “e-waste,” which is one of the nation’s fastest growing segments of refuse. Not all electronics can be recycled when they die or become obsolete, so they have to be dumped in a landfill. Less physical servers means less e-waste being thrown away, which can cause hazardous materials such as mercury and lead to seep into the ground.

Units that utilize VM hosting also save money because all the equipment, infrastructure and space are provided by Information Technology Services. Additionally, VM hosting is reducing the prices they charge, with monthly rates for CPU and RAM being lowered 33 percent, and setup fees dropping by 50 percent. A basic VM now only costs a user $20 per month.

For the technologically advanced, VM hosting is adding several new options to their roster of services this summer. After getting requests for dedicated load balancing, users will now have the ability to create and manage load balancing profiles for their applications in VM hosting. In addition, a collaboration with ITS Telecommunications and Networking Services (TNS) will provide clients with the option to manage their own firewall instances and configurations. Finally, a third new service will offer VM replication across physical locations to allow the VM to be active in the case of a power outage.

Many Penn State groups and units are already taking advantage of the University's expanding VM hosting services, including World Campus, the Office of University Relations, Web Lion and the Schreyer Honors College. Adam Caimi, director of outreach information technology, explained that the service is especially helpful with achieving the necessary higher levels of redundancy.

"Our department has seen great benefits from the VM service beyond the reasonable price to support our growing world campus IT footprint," said Caimi. "We rely on the service to provide necessary redundancy and data center diversity that we would otherwise have to build ourselves.  It's a great collaborative partnership."

To request the VM Hosting service, a unit simply fills out a form with some information including number of processors, amount of RAM and the hard drive size. After a request is made and received, Penn State's Development and Infrastructure team will build the virtual server, install the operating system, configure the software and perform back-ups nightly. Consulting services are always available.

“We are always willing to help a department compare options and suggest ways that hosted solutions can save resources,” said Scott. “It is especially important these days to consider how limited staff time could be used to advance the mission of the department, college or group instead of just keeping systems and services running.”

To learn more about VM hosting at Penn State, visit https://www.vmhost.psu.edu. To read more about how virtualization is helping to keep the University green, go to http://stream.it.psu.edu/story2/v1/i2. For more stories on IT at Penn State, visit Current at http://current.it.psu.edu/.
 

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Last Updated August 30, 2013