Glendon College will be putting three virtual servers on a single box as a possible solution to the growth of its IT infrastructure and in preparation for the construction of a new data centre.

Canada’s only bilingual arts college, Glendon is a campus of York University, Canada’s third-largest post-secondary institution. The school recently finished setting up a storage area network (SAN) based on products from Sun Microsystems’ StorageTek division, and is installing VMWare’s virtualization software. The next step, according to director of information technology Mario Therrien, is to configure and deploy a set of Sun Fire X4100 servers, which will run Windows, Linux and Solaris. Therrien said Glendon moved towards virtualization and server consolidation as it prepares for considerable expansion following a decision to open the country’s first bilingual graduate school of public affairs. “There’s also going to be much more of an emphasis on research work in the future, and that requires IT to support that,” he said.

Glendon had been running IBM servers until Therrien attended Sun’s annual Worldwide Education Conference in New York last March. “I’d heard of them on the Unix side, and York has a Sun fleet, but (the products) were new to me,” he said.

Like many organizations, Glendon’s current data centre is running out of space, with air conditioning costs reaching their limit. There was also an attitude among some researchers that a dedicated server is needed for each research project, which means many machines aren’t getting the best utilization, he said.

“Server deployment was becoming a nightmare,” he said. “It takes a long time to get the servers. You have to quote the server, order the server, find a space in the machine room, configure the server and then it’s up and running.”

While a “fully burdened” server might cost Glendon about $8,000, Therrien said the virtualization software would mean the Sun boxes could cost far less. The school also estimates it will save $60,000 in reduced help-desk costs over three years.

“We host faculty servers or those owned by departments and clubs. It’s kind of tricky to let these people in your machine room in the data centre – you never know what’s going to happen,” Therrien said. The VM tools will allow Glendon to manage its machines remotely.

Sun Microsystems of Canada director of education and research Lynne Zucker said a variety of schools are exploring virtualization as a means of dealing with the ad hoc nature of server deployments. “Everybody gets to their crisis point – their data centre gets full, their power requirements exceed what they have available,” she said. “Very often they’re coming back to this consolidation idea.”

While StorageTek was strong on the tape storage side of the market, its acquisition by Sun last year has opened up considerable opportunities in the overall infrastructure space, Zucker said.

According to Forrester Research Inc., server virtualization is surpassing other forms of virtualization, such as storage and network virtualization. Forrester surveyed more than 1,200 enterprises and found that 75 per cent of them are aware of server virtualization technologies, 26 per cent have implemented them and eight per cent were planning to pilot them by the end of this past summer. Forrester attributes the rapid adoption to several factors, such as reduced costs for making infrastructure more flexible over time. “Unlike computer grid technologies, which require architectural changes, server virtualization allows firms to easily encapsulate existing applications into containers that can be moved between physical servers,” Forrester writes in its report, Server Virtualization Goes Mainstream.

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