"This is where we're looking at doing some cloudy things in the Joni Mitchell model," he says. "It will be more of what you traditionally think of as a cloud because we probably will go down the virtualization path for a large portion of it."
Clemson has more than 200 systems virtualized today, mostly to support smaller applications. "We're virtualized where it makes sense," Wilson says. "One of the problems with virtualization is, once you go down a path you're kind of stuck."
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The team hopes to avoid that elephant trap by using Dell's Advanced Infrastructure Manager (AIM), which Wilson describes as an abstraction layer between the hardware and the services supported.
"AIM lets you manage the hardware behind VMware, and manage the VMs on top of VMware as well, so you have this view of your whole enterprise and you can mix and match resources," Wilson says.
One of the primary benefits: the ability to move applications between virtual and hardware-based environments, regardless of which virtualization tools are used. "If we need three more Blackboard instances we can spin that up on hardware," Wilson says, "and when things slow down, with a single reboot, shift those to virtual machines and use the hardware for something else. This is a really good product to manage your whole infrastructure and it gives you an exit strategy if you want to switch virtualization vendors."
AIM also represents Clemson's first serious dip into iSCSI. With AIM, the school can boot a host from a remote instance over an iSCSI link, then move that machine around virtualization platforms. "AIM solves all the driver problems," Wilson says. "If an instance crashes you can restart, or try to boot it on another box based on policy. Hands free."
Mike Cannon, data storage architect, says Clemson just brought in two iSCSI arrays and two new QLogic 9200 Fibre Channel switches to grow out the university's Fibre Channel network to 1,024 ports. The Fibre Channel network is split into two fabrics (with diverse paths) and spans both Clemson data centers.
"The storage network really needs to converge at some point," he says, "but we're not ready yet. Today we have a Fibre Channel network, we have our enterprise Ethernet network and we have the Myrinet network, which ties all of the high-performance computing nodes together. We also have a little bit of Infiniband for testing."