Using virtualization for servers, like those shown above, will reduce energy consumption considerably. (Photo: Rich Avila)

IT servers go virtual and green

  • February 16, 2009

Servers provide the backbone of information technology services for the university, storing millions of documents, Web pages and applications for faculty and staff and maintaining critical records for everything from students’ grades to payroll.

So what to do when you’ve learned that you’re running out of power for these crucial pieces of equipment, running out of space to put them and have been charged with keeping the university’s operations “green”?

John Charles, CSUEB’s chief information officer, with Rich Avila and Jonathon Taylor of server operations and system support, examined the existing servers and found that most weren’t being used efficiently or to capacity. Fortunately, one process, called server virtualization, could solve these problems and help them begin centralizing the University’s networked resources into one data center.

“In the simplest terms, it’s like replacing an incandescent lightbulb with a compact fluorescent,” said Charles. “It’s the same light, just not as much heat.”

Instead of maintaining separate machines, virtualization uses high-capacity devices partitioned with specific software, allowing one machine to replace several. It decreases power consumption by removing old, inefficient devices as well as reducing the volume of equipment.

It was also important to plan for future usage. “The demand for more computer power and network space shows no sign of stopping any time soon,” Charles said. For now, the ability to expand is outpacing demand. “Eventually, power consumption will rise, but not as sharply. …We have an architecture that is greener, so we can add capacity without as big a carbon footprint.”

To date, energy usage has been reduced by 26 percent, leading to an estimated net cost savings of more than $30,000 for the year, even with new machines being added to the data center. Charles added that the centralized virtual servers also provide an extra layer of security, which is another key technology concern.

The transition from dedicated to virtual servers is about half completed, with 18 months remaining in the project. Once the new administration building on the Hayward campus is completed, the more flexible and portable virtual servers will further ease the transition to a new data center on the first floor.

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California State University, East Bay is the San Francisco East Bay Area's high-access public university of choice. CSUEB serves the region with campuses in Hayward and Concord, a professional development center in Oakland, and an innovative online campus. With an enrollment of more than 14,000, the University offers a nationally recognized freshman year experience, award-winning curriculum, personalized instruction, and expert faculty. Students choose from among more than 100 professionally focused fields of study for which the University confers bachelor's and master's degrees, as well as an Ed.D. in education. Named a "Best in the West" college, as well as a Best Business School, by the influential Princeton Review, Cal State East Bay is among the region's foremost producers of teachers, business professionals and entrepreneurs, public administrators, health professionals, literary and performing artists, and science and math graduates.

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