4-page Case Study
Posted: 8/31/2012
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Marquette University Marquette Aims to Reduce Server Costs by 50 Percent, Curb IT Hiring with Upgrade

Like many universities, Marquette University wants to get the most value from every technology dollar that it spends on both staff and equipment. That is why it is upgrading to Windows Server 2012, which supports industry-standard storage options, provides higher virtualization density, and simplifies IT management. Since testing the operating system, Marquette is moving Windows Server 2012 into production. It expects to reduce storage costs by 10 times and server costs by 50 percent. Its Windows-based server staff of four can manage 300-plus servers with far greater efficiency, leaving it more time to deliver new solutions needed by the university. Marquette also hopes to reduce its server maintenance outage windows from six hours to three hours, which will reduce interruptions to students and staff.

Marquette is a Jesuit university in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with approximately 8,100 undergraduate and 3,700 graduate and professional students from across the United States and 68 countries. It also has more than 1,100 faculty members. To keep up with the faculty’s and students’ ever-changing technology needs, the university’s IT organization is always looking for new technologies that help it be more efficient. The university has more than 300 servers running the Windows operating system and only four staff members to manage them.

“My staff is responsible for keeping these servers running and also for maintaining the many Microsoft applications that run on them,” says Victor Martinez, Windows Lead at Marquette University. “Plus, we’re a very forward-looking department and are always evaluating new products. We want to focus on strategic activities, not on building, managing, and updating servers.”

* The ability to use low-cost storage is a crucial benefit of Windows Server 2012. I estimate that we’ll save $53,000 on fiber-channel storage. *

Dan Smith
Deputy Chief Information Officer, Marquette University

To improve IT efficiency, stem physical server growth, and reduce costs, Marquette had virtualized its data center primarily using VMware software and later also using Hyper-V in the Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system. However, VMware licensing was becoming cost-prohibitive, and Marquette was carefully watching the evolution of Hyper-V in hopes that it could eliminate VMware entirely. Hyper-V licenses were covered in the school’s Microsoft Campus Agreement. The IT staff was also eager to lower storage costs by moving more data from expensive storage area networks (SANs) to less expensive storage architectures.

The Marquette IT team also sought to reduce downtime. The staff had long used Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager to manage security updates, but it was a challenge to find times to perform routine software maintenance without interrupting students and staff. “We typically had to take servers offline for six hours or longer to apply updates, which was increasingly unacceptable to our user community,” says Aaron Ott, System Administrator at Marquette University. “With the proliferation of online classes and mobile devices that are accessing our IT systems around the clock, availability has become more important than ever.”

Because the IT staff puts such an emphasis on thinking strategically, Marquette has been an aggressive early adopter of Microsoft technologies. “When we have a huge investment in a product, it’s nice to get your hands on new versions early so you can influence the design,” says Anthony Ciske, Windows Administrator at Marquette University. “Additionally, because we have a lean staff, Microsoft Rapid Deployment Programs give us the support that we need to fully explore new products.”

When Microsoft announced the Windows Server 2012 operating system, Marquette quickly joined the Rapid Deployment Program (RDP) to get a good look at the new version of Hyper-V and other features. “We were really eager to get a look at the enhanced Hyper-V capabilities to see how they could help us be more efficient and get away from the added cost of VMware,” says Dan Smith, Deputy Chief Information Officer at Marquette University. “We also wanted to test the new flexible storage options that might enable us to shift to cheaper storage.”

File-Share Storage
Smith is referring to a feature that Microsoft calls Hyper-V over SMB. It refers to the support in the operating system for the Server Message Block 3 (SMB3) protocol, which lets organizations store application data on a file-sharing server and obtain a level of reliability, availability, manageability, and performance that is similar to what SANs deliver, but at a much lower cost.

In its RDP proof of concept, Marquette set up four physical servers running Windows Server 2012 Datacenter. Two servers (nodes) were configured as a scale-out file server cluster. The third was used as a Hyper-V host, and the fourth was used as a Microsoft SQL Server data management server. Both the Hyper-V and SQL Server hosts accessed the storage on the file server cluster.

Marquette expected a lengthy installation to get the test setup running, but Ott was able to build the infrastructure on his own in less than two days. “It was really easy to install Windows Server 2012,” Ott says. “I wasn’t familiar with clusters but was able to configure the clusters by myself.”

Marquette repurposed existing HP ProLiant servers and an HP SAN for the RDP. “We’ve been an HP customer for a long time,” Martinez says. “We recently switched to HP blade servers both for lower cost and configuration efficiency. They take up less space, the cabling and power are very efficient, and our SAN infrastructure plugs into them nicely. Plus, HP has a good relationship with Microsoft, which is reassuring.”

During the proof of concept, Marquette found that there was no noticeable performance difference between a physical SQL Server host connected to SAN storage and a virtual SQL Server host connected to SMB3 storage. With the file-share storage capability, Marquette can expand its use of lower-cost storage and deliver continuously available application storage for critical services such as SQL Server and Hyper-V.

Continuous Availability Improvements
In addition to testing the enhanced storage support in Windows Server 2012, Marquette evaluated the availability improvements—the chief being Cluster-Aware Updating. Cluster-Aware Updating supports the automatic updating of clustered servers with little or no loss in availability during the update process. “This has been the most impressive feature to me,” Ott says. “We’ll be able to update clusters without manually moving virtual machines from host to host while we update host servers.”

The improvements to Cluster Shared Volumes also impressed Marquette, including the ability to provide simultaneous access to data files, with direct input/output, to all nodes in a file server cluster. With this active-active configuration, Marquette IT staffers can balance loads across cluster nodes by moving file-server clients without any service interruption.

* We’ve been watching Hyper-V come to feature parity with VMware, and every VMware feature we need is now in Hyper-V. *

Aaron Ott
System Administrator, Marquette University


Greater Virtual Machine Density
Marquette can fit about 10 virtual machines on each VMware and Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V host (it has about 14 VMware hosts and 7 Hyper-V hosts). However, it has been able to achieve a 50 percent higher virtual machine density with Windows Server 2012. “We’ve been watching Hyper-V come to feature parity with VMware, and every VMware feature we need is now in Hyper-V,” Ott says. “We’re not putting any new virtual machines on VMware.”

Management Efficiencies
Another new feature of interest to Marquette is the new Server Manager, according to Ott. “From the management console, you have access to every server in your cluster versus having multiple windows open,” he says. Additionally, there are many more Windows PowerShell command-line interface language commands in Windows Server 2012 that the Marquette IT team can use to control many more aspects of the operating system.

Marquette is gradually upgrading to Microsoft System Center 2012, which will provide even more management efficiencies. “System Center and Windows Server are moving toward greater integration,” Martinez says. “We’re very interested in the System Center 2012 Service Manager and Orchestrator components, which will help us automate many IT processes.”

Upgrade Plans
After its successful proof of concept, Marquette converted its evaluation setup to a production cluster that consists of six nodes: four are the failover file-server cluster storage, one is a Hyper-V host, and one is a SQL Server host. To date, Marquette is running several large databases for Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 on Windows Server 2012 and plans to upgrade many of the 300-plus servers to Windows Server 2012 after the operating system is released to manufacturing.

With its upgrade to Windows Server 2012, Marquette University foresees being able to reduce both storage and server costs, vastly improve IT staff efficiency, and improve IT system availability by reducing maintenance time.

Reduce Storage Costs by 10 Times
By taking advantage of storage efficiencies in Windows Server 2012, Marquette estimates that its storage costs will be 10 times lower than using SANs. “The ability to use low-cost storage is a crucial benefit of Windows Server 2012,” Smith says. “I estimate that we’ll save [US]$53,000 on fiber-channel storage. We’ll always have a SAN, but we can also have storage off the SAN, and Windows Server 2012 will give us an opportunity to have more cost-effective alternatives.”

Reduce Server-Related Costs by 50 Percent
Marquette will be able to reduce server costs by upgrading to Windows Server 2012. “By increasing our virtual machine density, we decrease the number of servers that we have to buy, and all the associated power, cooling, and management costs,” Martinez says. “We have 10 virtual machines per host today, and we hope to get 15 virtual machines per Windows Server 2012 host, which will mean a 50 percent decrease in server costs. We estimate server savings of $22,000.”

* We have 10 virtual machines per host today, and we hope to get 15 virtual machines per Windows Server 2012 host, which will mean a 50 percent decrease in server costs. *

Victor Martinez
Windows Lead, Marquette University

Adds Smith, “We’ll also see a reduction in VMware licensing costs as we move our entire virtualization infrastructure to Hyper-V. We have a very attractive Microsoft licensing deal through a Campus Agreement. We’ve been very, very happy with our Microsoft license, which enables us to run all the new software that we can at no extra cost.”

Make IT Staff More Efficient and Effective
Marquette will see IT management time and cost savings from using Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012. “Without System Center and virtualization, we would easily need one or two additional people on staff,” Martinez says. “There’s no way we could run today without these tools.”

Adds Ott, “There are always new projects coming along, new servers to get up and running, new users to work with, and new products to evaluate. With Windows Server 2012 helping us be more efficient, we’ll have more time to spend on these activities.”

Don’t forget the benefit of more sleep, Smith adds with a smile. “Our staff does many of these activities at night so as not to affect students and staff. With Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012, they won’t have to work after hours as much.”

Improve Availability by Decreasing Maintenance Time
By using Cluster-Aware Updating, Marquette can finish its maintenance work a lot faster—Martinez estimates 50 percent faster. “We’re working toward three-hour outage windows [versus the current six-hour windows], which will allow us to have more frequent updates and keep our servers safer,” Martinez says. “We’ll no longer have to update virtual machines separately from the hosts; we can now update them concurrently with our host servers. We want to make sure our systems are up-to-date and completely secure, and when we can do with much shorter downtime, we deliver a huge benefit to the university community.”

“Microsoft supports all the enterprise features that we want for high availability,” Ciske concludes. “Between Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012, the overall management of our environment will be greatly simplified.”

Windows Server 2012
Windows Server drives many of the world’s largest data centers, empowers small businesses around the world, and delivers value to organizations of all sizes in between. Building on this legacy, Windows Server 2012 redefines the category, delivering hundreds of new features and enhancements that span virtualization, networking, storage, user experience, cloud computing, automation, and more. Simply put, Windows Server 2012 helps you transform your IT operations to reduce costs and deliver a whole new level of business value.

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For More Information
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For more information about Marquette University, visit the website at:

Solution Overview

Organization Size: 1100 employees

Organization Profile

Marquette University is a private university in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with about 11,800 students. Founded in 1881, Marquette is one of the largest Catholic, Jesuit universities in the United States.

Business Situation

A staff of four supports more than 300 Windows-based servers, and Marquette wanted to reduce server maintenance work, server and storage costs, and maintenance-related downtime.


The university is upgrading to the Windows Server 2012 operating system for its innovative use of low-cost storage and improvements in continuous availability and management efficiency.


  • Reduce storage costs by 10 times
  • Reduce server costs by 50 percent
  • Better utilize IT staff
  • Improve system availability

  • HP ProLiant BL460c G1 blade servers
  • HP EVA 8400 storage area network

Software and Services
  • Windows Server 2012
  • Microsoft Hyper-V
  • Microsoft System Center 2012

Vertical Industries
  • Higher Education
  • Education

United States

Business Need
  • Cost Containment
  • Cloud & Server Platform

IT Issue