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Small College Reaps Big Benefits From Cloud Computing

Having consolidated and virtualized its servers using VMware's vCloud initiative, a small college is learning how much it can get done.

If it were a cloud, Marian College would be something less than cumulous.

But the small Indianapolis, Ind., college, with a student body of 2,100, has dipped into cloud computing. It has virtualized its infrastructure, made virtual servers available over the network practically on demand, and coordinated its internal operations with an outside cloud managed by a service provider, BlueLock.

Given the debate over cloud terminology, the college qualifies at least as a cloud wisp. It also illustrates some of the gains IT gets when it thinks in terms of cloud computing versus adding one more thing to the IT infrastructure.

VMware at its VMworld user group meeting in Las Vegas last September launched what it called its vCloud initiative. It combines old, renamed products with new technology that hasn't arrived yet, with outside suppliers of "cloud" services. Marian College was an early implementer.

"The vCloud initiative is not where we started out," recalled Mike Temaat, network engineer at the school. The college IT department was looking to replace its direct attached storage with a more flexible storage area network, "that was all we were looking for," said Temaat. Then BlueLock got the college to consider "much larger needs further out on the timetable."

By consolidating and virtualizing servers, Marian IT staffers realized "we could do things that small to medium organizations typically don't have the resources to do, including the VMotion or live migration of virtual servers and cloud computing," Temaat said in an interview.

Temaat consolidated 15 servers -- 10 servers in the data center, each running a single application, plus five scattered around the school -- down to three HP ProLiant BL460c blade servers on a single 42-slot rack.

All three serve as hosts to virtual machines, and 16 servers are currently running in the data center, Temaat explained. Two shelves of disk drives for SAN operations are located close to the blades, leaving 32U of space to spare in the rack. Microsoft Exchange for e-mail runs on one virtual server, Microsoft Great Plains financials and FRX financial reporting in another, Three Rivers Systems' CAMs student management in another, an SQL Server 2005 database in another, etc. Temaat can maximize resources available per application, or during slack times, consolidate servers down to two blades through VMotion, if he chooses. He has VMware's virtual infrastructure

In a recent week, IT had to figure out how to train 50 college users in Windows Vista and Office 2007 in a week, while not disrupting the adult students who came in the evening and needed their familiar Windows XP and Office 2003 machines in the same computer lab.

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