Friday, 31 October 2008

Going Green, Gaining Benefits

Back in the days when I was Head of IT in a College of Further Education (all of 6 years ago) if you wanted to buy a new server it took forever. Well... a period measured probably in months anyway.

It was a major item of expense, you had to get Finance approval, you had to go through a selection process, place an order, wait for delivery which usually meant waiting for it to be built and then you had to find a place in the racking, purchase an uninterruptable power supply (UPS), get the thing up and running with all the software you wanted it to run and finally introduce it to the world of unsure users by way of connecting it to the corporate network.

We went from the days of each application having its own server, because that was all the server could cope with, to running multiple applications on servers because they became more robust and capable.

In these days of advanced technology (how I'm going to laugh at that in 5 years time...) the buzzword is virtualisation.

The trend is now reversed with servers being dedicated to a single application once more, meaning if there is a need to take the server down then only one function is affected. Even this is becoming rare. What is different now though, is that the multiples of servers required by this approach can now be running on a single machine.

Huh? Yes it sounds a bit weird if, like me, you went through your spotty phase in the 1960s, but virtualisation is about a single hefty server running multiple instances of operating systems and driving either dedicated disk drives or shared drives. To all extents and purposes what the end user, perhaps in HR, sees is their own Windows server with their HR systems and nothing else on it. They may be unaware that the same box is driving an Oracle database for Finance, a SQL Server database for someone else and that someone different again is using the same box but with a Linux operating system...

Risky? Not really, the number of swap-out components these days means if one of the resident virtual servers goes down the others should be unaffected.

But why is this any greener? Well because whilst you may well have twin power packs and UPS protection that's still a lot less than the dozen or so servers that you may have had in the past, each drawing power and requiring UPS protection. So we're cutting down considerably on our use of electricity from the National Grid.

Plus, the reduction in the number of power supplies and UPSs (don't you hate plurals like that?) means that considerably less heat is being generated, manifesting itself as a reduced requirement for air conditioning, leading to yet less requirement for electricity to drive the air conditioners.

Ok so it's green. Does it have any other benefits? Well yes it does. Remember the list of things I had to do in the past to get a new server? Trying to get approval to buy a new server merely to test something out would have been unthinkable then.

But to quote Network Manager Neil Hunt at Myerscough College in Lancashire: "I've set up three new servers this week just to try things out and then torn them down when I'd finished."

What? So how long does it take to set up a brand new (virtual) server on an existing box? "I can have a Windows server up and running from scratch in about three minutes, using a template such as Win2008 Service Pack 2".

The cost of a box big enough to host 11-16 virtual servers (depending on what you want each to do!) is somewhere in the region of 5-6 thousand pounds. Which means that once you have 2-3 virtual servers running on it, you have reached or surpassed the break-even point in terms of costs of individual servers.

Helping the environment? I'm all for it...!

No comments: