The New Urgency For Server Virtualization

As federal agencies close data centers, they must drive up utilization of their remaining systems. That requires a well-conceived virtualization strategy.
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The New Urgency For Server Virtualization As federal agencies reduce the number of data centers they operate in compliance with the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative, they'll do so by packing more processing power into less physical space. The key is to raise the utilization rates of data center servers, requiring a virtualization strategy that's well aligned with each agency's data center consolidation efforts.

The FDCCI, introduced last year by the Office of Management and Budget, required agencies to take an inventory of their data center assets, develop consolidation plans, and integrate those plans into their fiscal year 2012 budget submissions. The inventory identified 2,094 data centers across federal government, and OMB wants to reduce them by 40%, or about 800, by 2015.

The FDCCI instructs agencies to develop technical road maps for their consolidation efforts and create utilization plans that take into account servers, rack space, and power usage. Agencies must establish baseline metrics and annual targets for improvement.

Server utilization in federal agencies, on average, is less than 27%, federal CIO Vivek Kundra said in a July FDCCI status report. Virtualization is a way to get utilization rates closer to OMB's optimal range--60% to 70% for servers and 80% to 90% for rack space.

There's much to be gained in tying a well-conceived virtualization strategy to data center consolidation. Benefits include lower energy consumption and facilities and server operations costs, improved automation of server management, rapid provisioning, and support for continuity of operations.

Virtualization dramatically reduces the time it takes to provision servers, dropping from days or weeks with physical servers to minutes or hours with virtual ones. Another plus is space savings. One Army department used virtualization to consolidate four rows of 12-server racks into two rows of eight-server racks, more than doubling server capacity in the process.

Hypervisor Options

Physical servers employ a hypervisor to manage virtualized server instances, or virtual machines, and allocate system resources among them. The three main commercial options are Citrix XenServer, Microsoft Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V, and VMware vSphere. IBM, Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, and other vendors also have hypervisors, and there are dozens of open source options. These platforms offer provisioning, virtual switching, integrated backup, and snapshots of live virtual servers.

Government IT pros must assess agency requirements in areas such as high availability, load balancing, security, management, and disaster recovery. Hypervisors also should be evaluated to determine their support for an agency's tape and disk-to-disk backup hardware and software products.

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