Virtualization and Funding

February 6, 2007 at 7:59 am | Posted in Technical | Leave a comment

I heard a bizarre argument against server virtualization yesterday.

I spoke with a colleague in higher education, and when the subject of virtualization came up, he laughed and shook his head. He works for a large public University, which tracks inventory based upon the funding source used to purchase the hardware. If funds were obtained via a grant proposal, and one of the items requested in the proposal was a “server”, the University would expect a physical box with a bar coded tracking device to be part of its regular inventory. In this way they hold researchers accountable for the proper allocation of funds.

I’m sure there must be a better way to handle this than to avoid virtualization altogether. Surely the cost-savings involved in virtualization justify some changes in the way spending is tracked. There was an article in Network World magazine last May with the following example from a college in Maine:

“Davis says 58 per cent of Bowdoin’s applications run on virtualized servers. The 15 HP blade servers cost $93,000. VMware’s ESX pricing for the education market is $3,000 per server, which can each support multiple virtual machines, for a total of $27,000.

Antonowicz says that to support the new applications deployed, 57 additional physical servers would have been needed. But as a result of using virtualized servers, Bowdoin bought none apart from the blades. Antonowicz estimates the 57 boxes would have cost $356,250.”  (By John Cox, Network World, May 2006)

So, the trusty calculator says that in this case, Bowdoin saved $236,250 through virtualization. Surely the public University could realize similar savings by finding a simple way to track multiple grantors’ investment in a blade array.

Perhaps they need to change the language of the grant proposals, inserting a paragraph explaining that servers are virtual. Maybe the IT staff who are managing the network can come up with a standard cost for everyone, and it can become part of the ‘administrative overhead’ in the grant proposals, rather than a physical item to be purchased.

I’m sure I don’t have the answers, but I am also sure that it’s a mistake to stumble over an inventory system at the cost of so much efficiency.

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