The concept of virtualisation is not new but its rapid rise to prominence among Australian businesses, small and large, has been a phenomenon over the past two years. Virtualisation offers a new way to centralise computing resources while retaining the ability to separate applications for specific workloads.
Sydney Uni takes virtual course to central IT
Following a long IT career in the financial services sector, two and half years ago Bruce Meikle joined Australia’s first higher education and research institution, the University of Sydney, as CIO.
Like all enterprises with many distributed departments, one of Sydney University’s greatest challenges is centralising IT management in order to reduce infrastructure duplication and streamline operations.
Computerworld spoke with Meikle about the path to more agile service delivery.
Moving to virtual infrastructure
Although some elements of server virtualisation were happening before Meikle started at Sydney University, the organisation intends to “really ramp it up” over the next couple if years.
“One issue is dealing with the significant growth in operational and research data, which is going through the roof,” Meikle said. “The ability to provide storage and computing in a flexible and efficient way is critical for us.”
Meikle, who spent many years in the financial industry at the likes of AMP, Colonial, Westpac, and even had a year at Woolworths, said the university wants to move to a much more robust set of services as it helps manage the transition of services from the older, distributed IT model. The ultimate driver, however, is dealing with growth and providing more effective disaster recovery.
The university went through formal review and tender for servers and storage and established preferred suppliers in those categories. It settled on VMware as its server hypervisor and its hardware suppliers are IBM, HP and Dell for servers and IBM, HP and Sun for storage.
Most of the centrally managed storage is virtualised and of the 1083 servers, 762 (70 percent) are virtual and 321 are physical. Of the virtual servers 474 are Windows Server and 142 are Red Hat Linux.
“Our approach is: with anything new, consider virtualisation as the first choice, but we will make pragmatic decisions,” Meikle said. “There are some situations where virtualisation is not ideal, like primary backend databases.”
What about skills and application support?
Meikle was initially concerned about the level of virtualisation skills within the IT team, not because he felt virtualisation was difficult, but because it was relatively new at the time.
“One is always concerned about skills with new technologies, but the vendor support has been good,” he said. “From a setup point of view it has been effective.
“We had to move the production data sets earlier this year, which we did with almost no interruption. Without virtualisation, it would have been much more difficult.”
Regarding application support from vendors, Meikle said it can be an issue and the team had the “odd argument with one or two”, but it hasn’t been a major problem.
“There are not a huge amount of problems with application support,” he said. “It can be a bit of a learning curve, but we’ve had good support from suppliers like IBM and VMware to build that capability. Now we take in consideration which components are virtualised.”