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ITS Ramps Up Server Consolidation


ITS continued its virtualization journey with a next-generation virtualization infrastructure. ITS is now 75 to 80 percent virtualized. ITS uses about 80 percent of the hosting service for its own needs, with the remaining 20 percent for external campus customers. The split used to be more like 70 percent, ITS, and 30 percent, campus users. ITS did three things to make this happen:
  1. Realigned staff to better support the work load.
  2. Adopted automation strategies to create efficiencies.
  3. Made a deliberate focused investment into infrastructure as a service.

The idea behind server consolidation is to install many servers in one space, or in this case, within ITS’ two data centers–at ITS Manning and at ITS Franklin. To avoid using up all that space, ITS had to become more efficient with each server. Nearly a decade ago, ITS began accomplishing this through virtualization. One ITS hypervisor—also called a host—could run seven or eight virtual servers on a single box. Today, each host can run more than 80 virtual servers, enabling ITS to fit 600 or more virtual servers in a rack as opposed to 40 physical servers.

As of August 2016, ITS hosted more than 1,350 servers.

The department also adopted a converged architecture on which to run compute work. With guidance from Research Computing and some aggressive pricing, ITS purchased Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) infrastructure in late 2014. UCS was a substantial capital cost. That investment let ITS drive down its overall hardware cost by only 10-15 percent upfront. But as ITS continues to move work toward UCS, the department needs to buy less hardware. Consolidating virtual storage and servers into a more integrated system requires less physical space, cabling and power. Storage, CPU and RAM, however, are much cheaper if you buy in bulk. For that reason, ITS invested $1.5 million, into the 2015 deployment. Two identical UCS deployments were set up–one each at ITS Manning and ITS Franklin. Each could replace 600 physical servers. The average cost of each of those 600 physical servers was $1,600.

By making a substantial upfront investment to consolidate virtual storage and servers into a more integrated system, ITS has deepened its commitment to virtualization, significantly reduced its average cost per server and has passed that savings onto clients. That, in turn, has enticed additional University groups to enlist ITS to host their servers. As of May 2016, ITS hosted more than 1,300 servers.

But as a result of that bulk purchase of UCS, ITS was able to reduce its prices in spring 2016. Some schools and departments saw their bills cut by as much as 75 percent.

Customer Testimonial

AnnualReport-Livers“The Athletics Department is transitioning some of the department’s virtual server infrastructure to the campus-maintained UCS. As Director of IT for Athletics, I had to weigh the costs associated with keeping the current configuration up and running or move it to a hosted-systems model. Therefore, rather than replace the existing hardware with new servers and continue to support the back-end systems and hardware, we have decided to go with the ITS-hosted solution.

The current plan is to move all production servers that support all business services–except the virtual desktop infrastructure used in the Ticket Office and student-athlete computer labs–over the next six months. If this consolidation effort goes as anticipated, we will revisit the possibility of moving the virtual desktop infrastructure to the campus UCS.”

Tom Livers, Director of IT, UNC Athletics

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