University of Maryland Takes Next Steps With Virtualization

With it storage and servers stabilized, the university is moving to the next level of virtualization. It’s readying a redundant off-site facility to protect its virtualized IT assets and plans to switch out its physical desktops for VDI next year.

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The University of Maryland’s Department of Transportation Services is taking virtualization to the next level.

The department, known as DOTS, has a dual mission of managing campus parking and running a fleet of shuttle buses. In 2009, the organization virtualized its server infrastructure using VMware technology. Three years later, DOTS replaced the storage component of that environment, installing a storage-area network (SAN) from American Megatrends’ StorTrends division.

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With storage and servers stabilized, DOTS has moved on to other facets of virtualization. The organization is readying a redundant off-site facility to protect its virtualized IT assets and plans to switch out its physical desktops for a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) next year.

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The transportation group’s virtualized infrastructure supports a range of applications, including, suitably enough, a virtual parking permit system based on vehicle license plates rather than a parking sticker. Other applications include a GPS-based shuttle tracking system and a range of administrative systems.

Timothy Robinson, IT operations coordinator for DOTS, said virtualization saves on support costs over time and also contributes to the College Park, Md., school’s green initiatives.

“The University of Maryland, as a whole, is committed to reducing the carbon footprint,” Robinson said, noting that the VDI project, for example, will consume less power. “You save quite a bit on electricity cost and you are giving back to the community by using less energy.”

Path to Virtualization

The DOTS virtualization journey follows a route familiar to many enterprises: Start with the physical servers where consolidation and higher utilization can produce some immediate efficiency wins and move on from there. On the server side, the transportation group runs 21 VMware guest servers with three HP physical host servers.

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The guest servers primarily consist of Windows 2008 R2 or Windows 2012 R2 servers with a couple of Linux servers in the mix, Robinson noted. The virtual environment encompasses Microsoft SQL Server 2008 and 2008 R2, MySQL, file servers, Web servers (both ISS and Apache), SharePoint 2013 and Active Directory domain controllers, he added. DOTS uses VMware’s vSphere virtualization platform.

Prior to the virtual makeover, DOTS’ physical servers were outdated and out of warranty. The backup capability only covered partial systems, providing two weeks of recovery at best. DOTS’ IT operation decided to move everything into a virtual environment as a less expensive alternative to replacing its aging systems. In 2009, DOTS IT transitioned nine servers “from metal to virtual,” Robinson said.

Three years into its new IT infrastructure, DOTS decided to swap out its original SAN component. The department had purchased an OEM storage product manufactured by one company and branded and sold by another company. The two companies, however, went separate ways. When the storage system’s warranty came up for renewal, neither company would renew it.

“We were left sort of holding the bag,” Robinson said.

DOTS began looking for a replacement system and came across StorTrends at an industry conference. DOTS IT compared StorTrends’ 3400i dual-controller SAN appliance with similar models from vendors such as Dell, HP and EMC, and found that the product’s price tag came in $15,000 to $20,000 below the others. In addition, the 3400i offers a vSphere plug-in that lets customers manage storage from vSphere instead of logging in to a separate StorTrends management console.

DOTS recently acquired a second 3400i, which it is installing at the redundant site in the College Park area. The virtual environment housed in that location will run in parallel with the one in the primary data center.

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