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September 04
Virtualization and Blackboard
If you’ve been following the IT trends lately you’ve heard about virtualization, but unless you deal directly with hardware and applications you may not really care what it means, or even how it affects you as a consumer of technology.

The answer to that should be fairly simple. In reality it shouldn’t affect you at all, which is a good thing. As hardware performance increases we look at better ways to utilize the increased power. Most consumer applications, like Blackboard in education, can only make use of a certain level of system resources before they stop becoming efficient. On newer servers this leaves what turns out to be a great deal of extra power sitting idle.

To deal with many software vendors have been working on ways to put multiple workloads on the same piece of hardware allowing the hardware to be fully utilized while giving application all the power it needs to still perform well for the consumer. Until recently however this hasn’t always been a good fit in the Enterprise.

At the UKIT we’ve been working with VMWare for our Enterprise Server virtualization environment. Over the last two years we’ve place over 190 virtual machines on 8 physical servers, many development and testing machines have been virtualized, which has saved money, not in just hardware costs, but also in power and cooling costs. By better utilizing hardware in the datacenter, we’ve been able to more rapidly test and deploy new and existing applications.

The next step in this process is high use production applications. In the past there have been concerns that this technology would lead to poor performance when dealing applications with a high number of requests, however new advancements have been made in both hardware and software to make this much more possible.

This semester we’ve incorporate two virtual servers into Blackboard application pool, with very positive results. Virtual application servers give us more than just the ability to better use the hardware, we are able to better prepare for increased usage of Blackboard by incorporating additional virtual machines rapidly into the pool, we are even working on ways to have the system automatically allocate application servers based on real-time performance information.

In the future we plan to completely more our Blackboard app as well as many other UKIT projects to a completely virtual infrastructure. This move will put us in a much better position and allow us to focus more on providing the university community with a better application experience.

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