Emory Report
June 8, 2009
Volume 61, Number 32


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June 8, 2009
Saving real money by virtualizing servers

Rich Mendola is vice president for information technology and chief information officer.

As Emory searches across the institution for ways to preserve resources, the Office of Information Technology presses emerging technologies to improve performance and reduce expense. In the Feb.16 Emory Report, I highlighted our cost-saving efforts to streamline communication systems and organizational structure. I would now like to report on our efforts to maximize the cost effectiveness of two basic information technology building blocks — servers and storage.

The demand for IT services continues to grow at phenomenal rates. The number of new servers at Emory over the last three years has increased 40 percent. Storage is growing more than twice that fast. Indirectly, by making better use of servers and storage, we avoid adding new data center space. This has a very real economic impact, since our data centers are among the most expensive space on campus — building a new data center averages around $2,000 per square foot!

The primary approach we have used to garner greater server efficiency is called “virtualization.” Server virtualization safely divides a single physical computer into multiple “virtual” computers. Since most servers aren’t fully utilized, consolidating multiple virtual servers in a single physical machine allows for much higher utilization and economy of scale.

From a sustainability standpoint, having fewer physical machines reduces the power, space and cooling needs in the data center because each virtual machine uses only 23 watts of power, little more than a refrigerator light bulb.

To date, these power-efficient solutions are saving more than 1.1 million kilowatt-hours of power each year. OIT has gone virtual with over 25 percent of our servers and will be rolling out a virtual server offering in the next month that campus IT departments can use. In addition to the cost savings, the scalability of a large central offering provides a level of redundancy and reliability that hasn’t been affordable for smaller departments.

In terms of storage, many people do not realize that OIT has nearly 1 million gigabytes of e-mail, health records and other data under management at any given time. An innovative tiered approach has helped control cost in the face of explosive growth. By engaging business users and analyzing performance needs over the past two years, our storage team has been able to re-architect new classes of storage within our existing equipment, avoiding more than $500,000 in new purchases.

Over the past two years, more and more units and schools have begun to take advantage of our central storage offerings, saving their areas both time and money.

The exciting news is that at the same time we were increasing our total storage capacity, we were reducing the cost for customers by up to 87 percent (in the case of storing backups) and reducing power and cooling demands by 44 percent.

Emory’s strategy to enhance its technology capabilities comes with the ever-present need for new and updated IT applications and services. Server virtualization and storage optimization are intelligent solutions to that demand. Their beauty lies in practicality: maximizing resources, minimizing waste.

Please feel free to e-mail me your reactions: rich.mendola@emory.edu.