IT Brings Cloud Computing to Campus

03/22/2012


What are they growing, you might ask yourself, on the UMass Lowell server farm? Answer: reliability, flexibility, security, cost efficiency and environmental friendliness.

The "server farm" is actually the IT data center with three-quarters of a million dollars in hardware including 23 host servers, 100 terabytes of super-high speed storage and bleeding-edge technologies like virtualization. It's all designed to help you process your data faster, better and more securely.

"What we're doing here is revolutionary," says Steve Athanas, associate director of infrastructure development. Starting in 2008, UMass Lowell's Enterprise Systems group in Information Technology purchased VMware's vSphere virtualization product. The changes to IT, the data center and campus applications were seismic. In short, this technology is a game-changer.
"In essence, what virtualization is," says Athanas, "is the ability to run several computers on one physical computer." Multiple operating systems such as Windows or Linux can run on the same piece of hardware, allowing separate applications to run on the same computer.

Are you managing your shared work with your own server? Check out this server registration article and contact Stephen_Athanas@uml.edu to get your servers and applications hosted by IT. "We used to buy a server for each application, because you can't run multiple server applications on the same installation of Windows," says Jim Packard, senior director of enterprise infrastructure systems. "But then almost 90 percent of the computing power you've purchased goes unused."
"And that's where virtualization steps in," Athanas picks up. "By using vSphere, we can unlock the full capacity, letting us use much more of the equipment the University has purchased. Less idle time for the server hardware means we need to buy less server hardware, so we can return more value to the campus."

"What we've done is to maximize the University's investments in IT," states Packard. "Quite simply, if we were running even half the servers that we are running today the way we did it even five years ago, it would have cost at least a million dollars extra from UMass Lowell's budget."

If it sounds sort of amazing, and a little baffling, you're not alone. Even IT techies are amazed "It's almost magic," says Athanas, who summarizes the benefits of virtualization below:

  • Cost optimization: Because we are utilizing more of each server purchase, we are maximizing the University's financial assets. 
  • Reliability: Because each virtual machine is not dependent on any one physical piece of hardware, hardware failures do not result in downtime like they used to. 
  • Flexibility: Virtual machines can be moved around to maximize utilization and can be customized to what is needed. 
  • Green computing: By virtualizing, the campus runs fewer servers, which use less electricity and requires less cooling.

Aside from just being efficient, it's also powerful. "It's ridiculously fast," says Athanas. Each server blade, which is the physical building block of the system, has almost 100 gigabytes (GB) of RAM, and has as many as 24 processors in it. "All of that is connected to incredibly fast storage and network connections, so there really is no bottleneck for performance."

"Now that we've got this technology stable and fully tested, IT is offering hosting in our private cloud to any other areas of the University," says Packard. "We have a team of talented professionals that has the skills to manage all of this with a very high level of quality."

"It's like having your car serviced," adds Athanas. "Maybe you could do it yourself, but why would you if you can have a trained professional who has all the right tools do it for the same money or oftentimes less than you can do for by yourself? IT can manage your systems while you focus on your core work, with students, research or otherwise."