Universities find the virtualization sweet spot

Managing virtual servers allows campus technology staff to capture an invaluable “snapshot” of the school’s network before a major upgrade is started that could lead to data loss. Having that snapshot handy, Domen said, would help ed-tech officials avoid having to “rebuild the system if something goes wrong.”

If server virtualization is combined with policies that put the brakes on a server overload, the benefits of managing off-campus servers will be realized within weeks of the transition, ed-tech leaders say.

Dan Lichter, director of systems and network infrastructure at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, said that before server virtualization took hold at the school, faculty members who requested a new server would have to wait weeks—even a month, sometimes—before the IT department could order, receive, install, and update the equipment.

Now, Lichter said, filling faculty server requests takes a day or so.

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“It has really become a no-brainer, and user satisfaction [has gone] way up,” he said. “In fact, they’re already a little spoiled from that.”

There has always been an efficiency sweet spot for sever use. Using physical servers at about 70 percent of their capacity has been a longtime goal in campus technology departments, because the equipment uses the same amount of electricity whether it runs at 10 percent of capacity or 70 percent, Lichter said.

The server will require more energy when it’s required to breach the 70-percent mark, he said, but that is only required once a week for many servers—and often less frequently than that.

If a physical server gets heavy usage once a week, Lichter said, “it’s idle for six days, using electricity and wasting money, taking up physical space in the data center. It’s just sitting there, not doing the job it needs to do. It’s waiting to do the job. … And you could have that same problem with dozens of servers.”

Lichter said “your efficiency would shoot through the roof” if campus technology departments could maintain that 70-percent usage. But that goal has been largely unattainable for colleges and businesses alike.