Mother Nature speeds school district virtualization project

By John Fontana, Network World |  Virtualization, VMware

The road to virtualization for Michael Riggs was covered with five feet of snow, which it turns out was a blessing.

The systems engineer with Falcon School District 49 near Colorado Springs, Colo., had his entire data center fried by a Christmas-time blizzard in 2006 that covered the site's air conditioning compressors under a snow drift. The drifts, coupled with closed roadways, made data center rescue impossible

The result was an internal data center temperature of 130 degrees that baked for 12 hours, and an insurance check that provided the needed funds for a virtualization project.

"We got a bailout before bailouts were popular," he said during his virtualization-track presentation at Network World's IT Roadmap Conference in Denver.

(Next IT Roadmap stop: April 2 in Chicago) 

But he doesn't advocate waiting for an act of God to get started with virtualization. He says he has never looked back.
The school district now has 50 virtualized servers housed on two physical hosts running VMware Infrastructure 3 (VI3) in a data center that supports some 1,500 teachers and staff.

Along the way Riggs learned to deal with virtual machine sprawl and how to virtualize Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint Server and SQL Server.

And the school district was able to cut its power and cooling costs in the data center by 50%.

"We really have no regrets," Riggs said. "With two clicks we can instantiate a VM. There is no greater feeling in the world as an SE then to bring up a half dozen servers for test, or production even, and not waste my morning let alone six weeks trying to provision things."

Riggs is now in Phase 3 of the project, which focuses on setting up a disaster-recovery site and getting VMware's VCenter Site Recovery Manger deployed.

The school district's virtualization infrastructure is based two HP DL 585 servers with dual-core quad processors with 32GB of RAM.

"We are seeing 70% utilization," Riggs said.

So far, the district has virtualized all its data center applications, including Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint and SQL Server.

The Exchange 2007 64-bit installation is anchored by two four-processor servers each with 8GB of RAM. One runs the Exchange Edge server and the other hosts the hub transport, mailbox and Outlook Web Access services.

The SharePoint installation is a single server for intranet and publishing, and the SQL Server infrastructure is made up of about a dozen virtualized servers.

The only application Riggs has not been able to virtualize is the district's Web-based student information system and that is only because the vendor is not supporting virtualized environments.

But the district has been able to expand its virtualization efforts by using Microsoft's Terminal Services RemoteApp technology to host line-of-business applications.

"Those were a pain to maintain on the desktop," Riggs said. Now all that is centralized.

And he noted that another big achievement was virtualizing the district's edge firewalls. "It has worked out great not having a physical infrastructure just for a single purpose."

But the road is not without its bumps.

Riggs says those moving to a virtualized environment should confirm all the hardware they use is on the virtualization vendor's hardware compatibility list and to get "buy-in" from all application providers.

And he says users should not rely on ad-hoc capacity planning. "It will bite you," he says. "Just properly size it from the beginning."

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