NSW Education graduates to virtualization

Better disaster recovery a key outcome

The NSW Department of Education and Training (DET) has completed an 18-month project to enable virtualization across its x86 infrastructure resulting in over 100 virtual servers in production.

With a mixture of VAX, Power-based AIX, Windows and Linux servers, the department was interested in applying "the same management regimes" to x86-based server as its high-end systems, according to the manager of enterprise systems, Paul Groves.

Groves told Computerworld the department was looking at strategy that deals with consolidation of Windows and Linux infrastructure and provides better HA and DR capability.

To better understand the emerging technology, DET established a "crash and burn" environment to "come to grips" with its capabilities and went on to create production and testing and development environments in preparation for real workloads.

After six months of testing, a proper project to adopt virtualization began 12 months ago and it has been a steady implementation process since.

"In the data centres we have 400 servers and the virtual machines now number from 100 to 120 and with that there has been a significant number of physical server decommissions," Groves said. "There has been not too much [consolidation], but we certainly have avoided physical infrastructure we would have had to deploy."

DET is running VMware's ESX Server on about 10 to 12 physical servers and has tested as many as 40 virtual machines per server in the crash and burn environment.

Groves said new 4-way dual-core servers are fairly high-end virtualization machines and run a mixture of Windows Server, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server and Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

With about two-thirds of its server fleet running Windows and Linux, the DET will continue to use AIX as its "high-end platform of choice" for database and portal hosting, and gradually migrate its custom VMS student applications to more modern platforms.

Looking back, Groves believes the business benefits are both hard and soft, with demonstrable savings in TCO.

"We ran our own calculations and model to get a good understanding of the cost and saw savings in hardware and significant improvements in data protection, which we struggled to provide previously," he said. "The soft benefits are being able to respond better to requests for new services. We also saved on the procurement process and cycle time of getting things installed."

The type of production workloads running in virtual machines centre around .Net and Java application services, with "a few database servers" in the testing environment.

"We have made a lot of inroads in running various Windows infrastructure like Active Directory and parts of Exchange," Groves said. "It is yet to be deployed in production but tests have produced quick wins."

VMware's offerings are not the only virtualization technology DET is evaluating, with "a great deal of enthusiasm" around using the capabilities of AIX and Power, and the open source Xen also being watched.

"We've had a reasonable look at other contenders," Groves said. "Xen was an interesting addition to the tech landscape, particularly with some of the bundling with Red Hat. We're also interested in virtualization in the storage market and are looking at it across all layers."

Groves said server virtualization is not a new technology, but the industry is almost approaching a paradigm shift in the way Windows and Linux environments are managed.

In Sydney to visit customers, VMware's vice president of product management, Karthik R. Rau, said an interesting direction for virtualization is using a very large computing appliance for a subset of workloads and infrastructure services, whereby virtual appliances run on extra cores of multi-core CPUs.

"We hear about new and innovative ways to use the technology," Rau said. "There is an interesting use for the desktop people have yet to realize. For security virtual machines can be more secure than physical."

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