SPECIAL REPORT: Virtualization

Achieving Efficiency Gains Via Virtualization

Consolidating the workloads of multiple underutilized servers onto a single server platform using virtualization solutions can increase utilization, consolidate resources, provide greater availability and system flexibility as well as end-to-end management.


Industry analysts report that between 60 percent and 80 percent of IT departments are pursuing server consolidation projects. So it's no surprise that many public sector
organizations are currently investing in virtualization technologies, driven by one or more of the following factors, including a need for:
* Server consolidation,to bring unmanageable server sprawl under control by running multiple workloads on fewer servers and reducing future needs for physical servers.
* Greater automation,
using virtualization to reduce costs, increase productivity and improve quality in software development and testing.
* Operational continuity, to reduce downtime by making high availability and disaster recovery solutions more cost-effective, simpler and more reliable.

* Desktop manageability and security, to lower costs, reduce risk and improve flexibility of desktop computing infrastructures.

Current government implementations are largely driven by a desire to reduce data center costs and improve operational efficiency and performance. However, the many benefits derived from virtualization include:
* Increased server utilization, enabling agencies to apply resources where needed, based on application demand.
* Fewer physical servers to manage. Virtualization can greatly improve operational flexibility, freeing IT administrative staff from legacy hardware chores, while simplifying server builds, backups and restores.

* Higher availability, with the ability to migrate applications from one server to another without taking down applications.

* Improved standardization, via a uniform platform that can configure applications once and roll them out multiple times.

* Simpler and faster application prototyping and deployment. Applications and software upgrades can be tested centrally, then quickly deployed without configuring new servers.

* More responsive in-house IT support. Departments can implement more servers more easily, and virtual servers can be repurposed as needed.

* Fewer servers translates to lower equipment costs, reduced energy consumption, less stress on HVAC, which can add maintenance cost savings.

* Reduced downtime, by eliminating planned downtime and preventing or reducing unplanned downtime through sharing of fault-tolerant hardware and automated restart of application servers.

* Properly implemented, virtualization technologies can enable a dramatic reduction in time to recovery following a disaster.

* More complete end-to-end management, leveraging capabilities such as versioning, access control, workflow, lifecycle management and other advanced services delivered by the various virtualization management tools and solutions.

What It Is

In its simplest form, virtualization separates physical machines from logical data and applications, removing an organization's dependence on high-powered desktop computers, while providing users with the same look/feel and reliable application performance. Federal government IT organizations increasingly understand that virtualization brings tremendous value as a tool for server consolidation and continuity of operations initiatives because virtualization can help reduce data center costs by consolidating the number of physical servers and increasing utilization from a typical level of 5% to 10%, to as much as 60% to 80%.

The Sum of its Parts

Within the overarching virtualization concept, there are several components, including server, application, network and storage virtualization.

Server virtualization allows organizations to consolidate the workloads of multiple underutilized servers onto a single physical server. This is by far the most popular type of IT virtualization effort.

Application virtualization refers to allowing applications to run on many different operating systems and hardware platforms. This usually means the application has been written to use an application framework. It also means applications running on the same system that don't use this framework won't gain the benefits of application virtualization. Advanced forms of this technology offer the ability to restart an application in case of a failure, start another instance of an application if the application is not meeting service level objectives, or provide workload balancing. Some sophisticated approaches to application virtualization can perform this task without requiring that the application be re-architected or rewritten.

Storage virtualization includes hardware and software technology that hides where storage systems are, and what type of device is actually storing applications and data. This technology makes it possible for many systems to share the same storage devices without knowing that others are also accessing these devices. This technology also makes it possible to take a snapshot of a live system so that it can be backed up without hindering online or transactional applications.

Network virtualization consists of hardware and software technology that presents a view of the network that differs from the physical view. So, a personal computer may be allowed to only 'see' systems that it is allowed to access. Another common use is making multiple network links appear to be a single link.
In the current economic slowdown, industry observers maintain that virtualization can be used as a tool to help lower costs and increase agility within federal agency IT operations. Depending on whether the organization is seeking greater performance, reliability/availability, scalability, consolidation, agility or a unified management domain, virtualization solutions have become a popular method to support public sector IT modernization goals, according to Josh Greenbaum, principal, Enterprise Applications Consulting, Berkeley, Calif. “The requirement to lower the overall cost and complexity
of IT platforms was important before, and is now even more crucial in the current economic climate,” he explained.

Perhaps this is why so many federal agencies and departments have already started implementing virtualization. Just a sampling of the federal government organizations widely reported to have implemented virtualized computing infrastructures include:

The U.S. House of Representatives is consolidating servers via a virtualization implementation that's expected to boost server utilization from under seven percent to more than 60 percent, and cut the number of servers as well as energy consumption costs, the latter by as much as 75 percent, according to industry reports.

The Department of Defense, meanwhile, is incorporating virtualization in several areas. The U.S. Navy, for example, is consolidating 2,600 servers that support the Navy Marine Corps Intranet, which serves more than 700,000 users. Anticipated savings include a $1.6 million reduction in annual energy costs. Meanwhile the Defense Information Systems Agency is using virtualization technologies to
consolidate from 18 data centers to 13, primarily to reduce labor costs and boost remove management capability.

The U.S. Army III Corps, headquartered at Fort Hood, Tex., trains, mobilizes and deploys forces for counter-offensive combat operations. A migration to virtualization there has enabled speedy deployment of servers, even in far flung locations. Meanwhile, the redundancy, live migration and failover capabilities provided by the Army's VMware Infrastructure 3 implementation have increased the reliability of applications.

The Defense Contract Management Agency has simplified its server infrastructure by implementing VMware's Virtual Infrastructure, eliminating 400 servers, reducing its data centers from 18 to five in the U.S., trimming an estimated $1.5 million in annual IT costs, and improving overall operational performance.

The Department of Energy's Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C., has also virtualized its servers, achieving a 5:1 server consolidation ratio, increasing uptime to 99.9%, cutting development time for new applications by 50%, and increasing processor utilization.

The Food and Drug Administration's Office of Information Technology Shared Services (OITSS) was spending too much money and time in support of an aging IT infrastructure. By implementing a VMware virtualization solution, the OITSS saw a 90% reduction in the number of server-related call center issues, as well as a reduction in hardware maintenance costs, and a tenfold increase in
server utilization.  

The National Labor Relations Board consolidated eight email servers to one clustered configuration and reduced 55 regional file and print servers to two network-attached storage devices using virtualization technologies. The board also is consolidating 20 database servers that support multiple legal case-tracking systems into a single enterprise system that will support cradle-to-grave case processing.