Guest post: IU Hoosier virtualizes 75% of workloads – saving time and money with System Center, PowerShell, and Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V

Hi, I’m Janssen Jones, and I’m the Associate Director of Auxiliary IT Infrastructure at Indiana University.

Since April, my team has been evaluating the beta of System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 (SCVMM) as part of the SCVMM Technology Adoption Program, and in the past six months, we’ve made great strides in virtualizing our IT Infrastructure on Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V clusters and managing that infrastructure with System Center and PowerShell.   We originally planned on easing into virtualization, as we weren’t sure if a virtual machine would be able to handle our workloads, and we didn’t believe that the technology had yet been proven.

Fast forward to today and we’ve now virtualized over 75% of our workloads on Hyper-V, and by year’s end, we’ll be at 90%.  I’ve been truly amazed at how well this solution can work once everything is in place.  As it stands, we have two 5-node Hyper-V clusters handling the majority of our workloads, along with a special-purpose 2-node cluster and a couple maintenance hosts.  We manage all of these virtual machines and hosts through one interface: SCVMM 2008.

To be clear, SCVMM actually has *two* user interfaces: a PowerShell interface, and a traditional graphical interface.  Though I do spend time in the graphical interface for looking at VM status, firing up remote console sessions, etc., I like to do all of the heavy lifting with PowerShell.  Using SCVMM’s templates along with PowerShell scripts from my script library, I can use a PowerShell “one-liner” to spin up a new virtual machine on our cluster in less than 10 minutes.  When comparing this to the old way (getting a requisition for a new server, putting the order through Purchasing, waiting a couple weeks, picking up the server from Receiving, taking the server to the machine room, racking the server, setting up the remote access controller, and installing the OS), I don’t think there’s any way we’ll ever go back. 

There are still a few hold-outs from some of our vendors who have not yet certified their solutions on a virtual environment, but we’re trying to put pressure on them to come aboard.  We’ve seen first-hand that we can virtualize everything from file, print, and web servers to database servers running SQL Server and Oracle, and actually have the virtual machine run *faster* than what it ran on our original physical box.  Of course virtual machines won’t truly run faster than physical machines on identical hardware, but what we’ve found is that when it’s time to replace a 3-year old server, we can easily do a physical to virtual conversion (P2V) of that machine to a VM on a new blade server, and that the VM easily outperforms its old self even while sharing the new hardware with eight to 12 other virtual machines. 

To date, we’ve been consolidating virtual machines at a ratio of about 10-to-1, and I think we could go much higher if we weren’t limited by the amount of RAM in our hosts.  However, we found that when purchasing a new server, it was the same price to buy two blades with 32GB of RAM as it was to buy one blade with 64 GB of RAM, so we settled on 32GB of RAM per server, which allows us the 10-to-1 consolidation ratio.  At 10 VMs per host, each of our Hyper-V hosts still average around 20-25% CPU utilization, so we haven’t come across any bottlenecks to date.  Given that consolidation, we’ve removed about 40 existing physical servers, and have consolidated from five racks to three (two at the datacenter and one at a DR site).We also actively use other products within the System Center suite to manage our physical and virtual infrastructure.  Most recently, we’ve begun testing Service Pack 1 for Data Protection Manager through the DPM Technical Adoption Program as well, and are excited to see that the same PowerShell interface we’ve grown accustomed to in SCVMM can now allow us to script Hyper-V backups as well.

I won’t say the deployment road has been free from bumps (no new technology is), but after six months, the effort our team has put into standardizing on Hyper-V and the System Center platform, and into immersing ourselves in Windows PowerShell, is now starting to have huge payoffs.  Our infrastructure is much easier to manage, our servers are provisioned in minutes (instead of weeks), and our single-purpose servers which used to sit idling at 5% utilization are now sharing that CPU with other virtual workloads.