While colleges and universities have a well-deserved reputation for being ahead of the curve in many areas, their willingness to be at the forefront of innovative technologies often flies under the radar. And yet, many higher-ed institutions have shown a readiness to embrace new technologies to better support students and faculty.

Such is the case with open source virtualization software. While the rest of the world—including businesses, elementary, middle, and high schools—was first beginning to grasp the benefits of open source virtualization, colleges and universities were already reaping those benefits.

Open source virtualization shares many traits with proprietary virtualization software. Both allow organizations to consolidate physical servers into powerful virtual machines. Both can greatly reduce an organization’s datacenter footprint, reducing costs and complexity. And both can pair with automation to reduce the need for manual oversight.

So why should a college or university go the open source route? Rest assured, it is not just because they wish to be trailblazers. Open source software virtualization offers some tangible benefits over other alternatives. Here are a few.

Driving better ROI

My company recently worked with a small liberal arts college that initially chose the non-open source route and quickly came across some significant hurdles.

First, their ROI quickly dwindled, thanks to licensing fees that continued to increase throughout the lifecycle of their investment. The increasing costs left them little recourse but to seek alternatives. Eventually, they migrated to open source virtualization tools to achieve their goals of lower costs, better value, and an optimal ROI.

Open source and proprietary virtualization tools offer different levels of value. Using a proprietary piece of open source virtualization software can be akin to driving a Ferrari; sure, it can offer a lot of power in certain instances, but you will pay for it even though you are probably not going to use it as your daily driver. Most organizations need tools that will help them manage small percentages of infrastructure and large swaths of development and testing.

Open source virtualization software excels in these areas. It gives IT teams exactly what they need for a fraction of the cost. It may be an SUV instead of a sports car, but it provides much better cost mileage.

Standards, but no limits

That same liberal arts college found that its original deployment limited its ability to flexibly deploy virtualized resources. It was difficult to add resources as needed, because they were required to adhere to strict vendor licensing guidelines or ran the risk of exceeding licensing use limits. They were committed to doing things the vendor’s way, rather than the college’s way.

When they turned to open source, they found it easy to integrate their virtualization tools with the rest of their IT infrastructure. They were no longer locked into specific solutions. They were using a technology based on open standards, ready to use with other technologies and operating systems.

A big open community

The open source development community is the driving force behind the software’s flexibility and innovations. Thousands of contributors around the world are working to develop new features, discover and patch flaws, and more. Open source developers have the ability to be more nimble than a small team of enterprise developers. They don’t need to adhere to a company’s static release cycle; rather, they can develop and innovate at their own pace. IT teams within colleges and universities can choose from the latest innovations to offer timely solutions and easily scale to meet the demands of students and faculty.

A last check-in with the liberal arts college sums up the benefits of open source virtualization software. That college has expanded its operation to several hundred servers, with the option of expanding or scaling back as necessary to accommodate peak traffic volume, particularly during busy times of the year (such as enrollment periods). At the same time, the organization’s datacenter and its associated costs decreased.

It should not take much for other schools to follow their lead. Certainly, there is minimal financial commitment; open source software is free to use, though campus IT teams may wish to consider partnering with companies that offer enterprise-ready solutions and support for nominal fees. Unlike proprietary software, there is also no need for a lengthy procurement process, though schools may need to adhere to certain guidelines and regulations pertaining to their software acquisitions, just like they would with any other tool.

Overall, the bar to clear is low compared with proprietary solutions, while the potential ROI is high. Those who jump over that bar will find themselves ahead of the curve—technologically, financially, and educationally.

About the Author:

Bill Hirsch has been working in IT for 20+ years as a Linux/Unix systems administrator, enterprise architect, and—prior to joining Red Hat—served as a director of infrastructure at a healthcare provider in Pittsburgh, Penn. In his current role as a senior solutions architect, Hirsch works with customers across the northeast and serves as the public sector SME on Red Hat Insights.


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