The University of Waterloo virtualized the infrastructure at its Department of Housing and Residences to reduce costs and boost performance. It accomplished that but, as demands on the infrastructure grew, so did the need for further innovation.
The department met that need with Microsoft private cloud technology, avoiding an estimated CDN$600,000 (US$605,275) in new costs, speeding virtual deployments from days to minutes, and increasing application quality and availability.
In 2009, the University of Waterloo’s Department of Housing and Residences took a major step towards reducing the costs of its technology infrastructure, while increasing its performance, by virtualizing the environment. If administrators had been able
to keep time from moving forward, that would have been enough.
The move from a physical to a virtual environment benefited the university department in key ways, of course. The Ontario, Canada university consolidated servers, driving down hardware, software, and maintenance costs. By reducing the number of components
that could break, application availability increased.
To accomplish this move, the department adopted a Microsoft virtualization solution based on Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter with Hyper-V virtualization technology and several components of the Microsoft System Center family of management products. The
move followed a trial of VMware virtualization, which the department found too expensive to license, maintain, and support.
Time, however, did move forward. Over the next two years, the three-person IT department became a victim of its own success. The department’s “customers”—students and staff who used its computing resources—asked for more applications. IT added a housing
management system based on Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 to replace its previous applications. Even IT developers needed additional support to keep up with increased demand for their services. To meet these needs, IT faced the prospect of making costly
additions to staff, hardware, or both—a prospect that virtualization had forestalled, but could not, by itself, eliminate.
By 2011, the housing department was ready to take its next major step down the road that it had begun with virtualization. That step was to build a private cloud to serve the application needs of students and staff with higher quality applications delivered
more quickly, and with higher availability.
||Supporting our current load without Microsoft private cloud technology could have cost us an estimated $600,000—an impractical increase.
| Greg Parks
Infrastructure Architect, University of Waterloo
Though creating a private cloud brought a major leap in capabilities, it was accomplished primarily by upgrading the department’s existing software to Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1 and Microsoft System Center 2012. In addition, the department organized
its environments into separate clusters: a five-node production cluster, two-node management cluster, three-node development cluster, four-node quality assurance cluster, and another two-node cluster for other production services. The cloud runs on servers
from HP and Cisco UCS, and is supported by HP and NetApp storage-area network systems with iSCSI 10 Gigabit Ethernet technologies to boost storage connectivity by up to 10 times.
To implement the design and deployment for the private cloud, the department worked with Alantex Corp., a Microsoft Partner Network member with Gold certification in virtualization, and Cloud Accelerate Partner. “Alantex had the private cloud expertise,
at the right price, and got our private cloud up and running in less than a month,” says Greg Parks, Infrastructure Architect, University of Waterloo. “Alantex’s approach makes a real difference. They took the time to understand our challenges, and they’re
really a one-stop IT shop for all our needs.”
Parks describes several of the Microsoft private cloud technologies as “game changers.” The department uses dynamic memory management, for example, to automatically assign more memory to applications to meet spikes in demand, and then to reassign that memory
elsewhere when demand subsides. The department now automates the processes of deploying virtual machines and physical hosts, and makes it possible for developers and application owners to create and terminate virtual machines as they need them, without intervention
by the IT staff. And it uses monitoring tools to give operations and applications teams more visibility into performance issues.
The University of Waterloo’s Department of Housing and Residences uses the Microsoft private cloud solution to reduce costs, speed service, and increase application availability.
Saves an Estimated$600,000 over Cost of Expansion with Virtualization Alone
Parks estimates that by using Microsoft private cloud technologies such as dynamic memory management, the department tripled the density of virtual machines per host, reducing the need for additional hardware. It now supports about 360 virtual machines
on 16 blade and rack-mounted servers, instead of the 35 host servers it would have needed at its previous virtual machine-to-host density. At about CDN$6,500 (US$6,556) per server, the department saved more than $200,000 over the cost of supporting its current
load through virtualization alone.
Parks also estimates that he would have needed to more than double the size of his staff to handle the increased infrastructure, which could have added another $460,000 to the payroll. “Supporting our current load without Microsoft private cloud technology
could have cost us another $600,000—an impractical increase,” he says.
Speeds Virtual Machine Deployment from Days to Minutes
The department and its internal customers manage and use the private cloud faster and more easily, compared to virtualization alone. Adding a physical host used to be a 6-to-16 hour process that stretched over two days. Now, Parks and his colleagues
accomplish the task in an hour or two. Developers and application owners now create virtual machines on their own in minutes; previously, it took days for their requests to be fulfilled.
The department uses the private cloud to get closer to its goal of 24 hours a day, seven days a week availability. System monitoring and management are faster and easier with the single, comprehensive view into the infrastructure—both hardware and
software, both Microsoft and non-Microsoft—that the department now has. Developers use the dedicated quality assurance environment to create higher-quality applications. And help-desk calls have declined too, which confirms that students and staff are satisfied
with the increase in application availability.
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