Universities find the virtualization sweet spot

Server virtualization has become a primary energy-saving strategy for campus technology departments.

There hasn’t been much opposition to ridding college campuses of clunky, energy-guzzling server racks, campus technology chiefs say, although creating virtual servers could result in an unwieldy mess if ed-tech staff aren’t careful.

Colleges and universities, like much of the private sector, have gravitated toward virtual servers in recent years—a move that lets campus technology officials clear the piles of servers that collect over time, cut down on electricity use, and satisfy faculty requests for more servers in less time.

The largest research universities and small private colleges alike have gone virtual with their campus’s servers, meaning the machinery is managed in a distant data center, for example.

In fact, server virtualization was the most common strategy for improving colleges’ energy efficiency, according to CDW-Government’s 2010 Energy Efficient IT Report, a survey that tracks the latest in money-saving campus technology strategies. Sixty-three percent of higher-education respondents said they had moved to virtual servers to save on electricity bills, according to the report.

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The list of pros for server virtualization is lengthy, campus technology officials say, but virtualization “sprawl”—creating an army of virtual servers—remains a con that colleges should be wary of.

“It’s easy to say, ‘Throw another server up for me,’” said Jonathan Domen, an IT network analyst at Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., where ed-tech decision makers transitioned to virtual servers with the help of network solutions company Bradford Networks. “As great as [server virtualization] is, it’s also a potential negative because it’s so easy to do it. … It can get unmanageable.”

Establishing strict provisions for when ed-tech staffers can add another virtual server to the school’s network, Domen said, is a key to avoiding a glut of servers. Implementing patches and security upgrades with so many virtual servers could waste staff time, he explained.

“You have to include solid policies up front,” he said. “Otherwise it could get a little out of control.”

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