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Energy Efficient IT Systems ? Server Virtualization

 A careful analysis reveals that underutilized desktop and server hardware is at the root of the problem. Most of the desktops and servers run at average rates of only 5 to 15 percent and when idle they consume as much power as in the active mode. Hardware capacity is typically over-provisioned as it is hard to adjust dynamically. Due to this, hardware is highly inefficient at delivering IT services.

Some other facts pertaining to use of IT systems in organizations are:

  •     Less than 3 per cent of energy used by data centers is productive
  •     15 per cent of servers are entirely idle
  •     From their total processing power, data centers have a utilization of only about 15 to 20 percent

Budget constraints, rising energy costs, and limits on electric power availability also hinder the ability of IT departments to meet the growing demand for IT services in the organization. To mitigate these challenges, it is all the more essential for organizations to embrace IT energy efficiency principles. This can help them to remain productive and competitive in the face of constrained and finite resources.

There are certain computer hardware systems with data center power and cooling infrastructure – these prove to be more energy efficient, offering gains in performance and capacity. However IT departments of many organizations have failed to capitalize on these advances.

The software solutions that improve energy efficiency include server utilization and centralized power management. Cloud computing infrastructure, both public and private also offer significant energy efficiency gains as compared to conventional IT infrastructure.

Let us now delve deeper into an important software based energy efficiency technique that can be adopted by small and medium enterprises for energy savings as well as operational efficiency, better resource allocation and enhanced security.

Server Virtualization:In the computing realm, the term virtualization implies presenting a single physical resource as multiple individual logical resources (such as platform virtualization), and also, making multiple physical resources appear to function as a singular logical unit (such as resource virtualization). A virtualized environment can include servers and storage units, network connectivity and appliances, virtualization software, management software, and user applications.

Server virtualization enables the consolidation of physical server environments. This means that fewer physical servers are required to run the same number of applications. The ratio of virtual machines to physical servers does vary as per the server virtualization technology used to create the virtual environment. However, the type and scalability of deployed physical servers and user-defined service-level agreements (SLAs) at reduction ratio of 5:1 is common. Bottom line savings of up to 80 percent can be realized with fewer physical servers and this is significant for many organizations, especially the ones with constrained budgets and limited power supplies.

What is the advantage of using virtualized software?:Virtualization software helps to create virtual machines (VMs) that share hardware resources and transparently work as individual entities on the network. Consolidating servers as virtual machines on a small number of physical computers saves money on hardware costs and makes centralized server management simpler. Along with energy efficiency, server virtualization also makes backup and disaster recovery simpler and faster. This in turn provides for high level of business continuity. Virtualized servers are also good for the safe testing of new operating systems, service packs, applications and configuration before they re rolled out in a production network.

Process of Server Virtualization:To begin with server virtualization, it is essential to perform a formal assessment of the organization’s existing and planned resources as well as the need for virtualization. Capacity planning determines how the virtual machines will be distributed across physical computers for optimum performance and ease of management.

The assessment should address questions including:

  •     How many servers does the organization have?
  •     What kind of systems do they serve: application, database or web?
  •     How many servers are actually required?
  •     What is the number of users being served?
  •     Are there any processes to be streamlined?
  •     How much of the existing infrastructure can be virtualized?

In a non-virtualized environment, business applications are run on specific server hardware and these consume computing and power resources even if the applications are idle. However, server virtualization solutions enhance resource utilization through pooling, sharing, and clustering on an ‘as-needed’ basis. Server consolidation also mitigates operational and ownership costs and offers more streamlined and centralized management.

Once the servers and software to be virtualized are identified, it is time to select the physical components on which the virtualization software will run. The relevant virtualization software also needs to be selected at this stage. Effective virtualization software are offered by Microsoft Inc. and VMware Solutions though open source solutions are also available. The organization should then deploy and configure the virtualization software, and migrate its server operating systems and applications to the virtual machines.

If new server hardware needs to be purchased, the vendor’s server specifications should be checked to ensure that the organization is purchasing proper capacity based on its IT environment evaluation. Most of the small and medium scale companies find that bladed servers offer maximum flexibility. A bladed server helps to quickly add or remove server blades from an enclosure, irrespective of storage and network connections.

Some virtualization software packages come in server and workstation versions. At the same time, there are others that offer elemental and integrated virtualization solutions, giving the organization total control over individual or entire components within its IT infrastructure. Such software offers both elemental and integrated virtualization.

Once the virtualized environment is established, the IT mangers can use management tools to control and monitor virtual servers. They can effectively monitor both virtual and physical servers simultaneously from a single, centralized interface. This in turn helps to pool and share IT storage assets, simplifying resource management and increasing energy utilization.

To ensure the security of virtual servers, IT administrators should further ensure that all remote users authenticate while attempting to connect to server. Also, since three or more Transmission Control Protocol or Internet Protocol ports may be used for access, a firewall must be configured to permit access to these ports.

bout the Author:This article by Frank Johnson is the first in his series on ‘Energy Efficient IT Systems’.  Frank is a regular editorial contributor on technology products and services that help small to mid size businesses.  To know more about Energy Efficient IT Systems, you may interact with him here

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