One thousand and growing: Indiana University hits virtualization milestone

An Indiana University strategy that harnesses the power of information technology to save energy reached a milestone today when its infrastructure of virtual machines and servers topped 1,000.

Information technology uses massive amounts of electricity, and virtualization is of growing interest as universities confront the triple concerns of sustainability, security, and space. But with “GreenIT” on the 2008 Gartner Group list of top 10 strategic technologies, IT is now recognized as part of the move toward sustainability and savings (

Rob LowdenIU’s solution provides not only greater IT efficiency and savings, but as important, supports the strategic mission of the university. “Information technology is seen as a major contributor to escalating energy use on the nation’s campuses, but it can also be part of the remedy,” said Rob Lowden, director of Enterprise System Infrastructure at IU. “Moreover, technology must always be able to advance our educational and scientific pursuits, but by leveraging IT across the university, we can standardize, achieve economy of scale, and have a greater ability to research, test, and deploy technologies that significantly raise the academic bar.”

Intelligent IT

IU’s virtualization initiative, known as Intelligent Infrastructure, was first piloted in 2007 as a service to provide and manage IT infrastructure for IU departments, units, and schools. Client operating systems, servers, and storage capacity are housed on virtual platforms in IU’s Data Center and delivered on the same high-performance and high-availability hardware as mission-critical university-wide applications and services. They receive the same security, maintenance, and backup services as other university resources.

“In order to grow its virtualization service, IU challenged the prevailing culture of dedicating one or more servers to each application, and spent considerable time communicating to the IU campuses the advantages of the virtualization strategy and the value of the service,” notes Lowden. “As the campus mindset began to change, adoption grew.” By 2008, IU had virtualized some 450 servers on 34 HP ProLiant DL585 physical servers (a consolidation ratio of more than 13:1). In 2008, IU’s Intelligent Infrastructure was named a Laureate in the Computerworld Honors Program. By January 2009, adoption had grown to 913. Hundreds of user groups across IU’s eight campuses are clients. At the IU Northwest campus, Intelligent Infrastructure provided a cost-effective alternative to upgrading an aging machine room facility. .

Says IUN CIO Elizabeth A. Van Gordon, “Not only have we eliminated the need for local hardware purchases, we have eliminated hardware service contracts, backup software licenses, and some software service contracts. What a relief it is to have the Indiana University Intelligent Infrastructure service that has allowed IU Northwest to migrate essential services to virtual servers in an environment that is climate-controlled, power-regulated, and secure.”

Virtualization at the foundation

Virtualization is an important theme in IU’s strategic plan for information technology, Empowering People. It provides the foundational structure for several university strategic directions, including the abundance of IT infrastructure required to take part in the global, connected academic community; plentiful secure physical and electronic data storage; and responsible environmental stewardship.

At IU, the Intelligent Infrastructure increases the ability to deliver more reliable services. Its secure backup infrastructure speeds time to recovery from unplanned outages; the ability to move applications to alternate processors or storage disks obviates planned downtime. Says Lowden, “Virtualization allows the university to manage more systems with fewer staff, or stated another way, to serve more systems without increasing staff.”

Sustainable IT

Virtualization makes a big contribution to sustainability. Consolidating hundreds of physical servers onto a proportionally smaller number increases efficiency and reduces waste. In the virtualized environment, utilization is often between 85 and 90 percent of capacity. Virtualization reduces the IT carbon footprint as well as the physical footprint. IU’s IT space requirements are down by 1,000 square feet. In the case of ERP system hardware, that represents a 90% decrease.

These gains affect the broader context. As researchers, academics, and program managers experience the abundance, stability, and efficiencies of virtualization, they help bring the university farther into the cultural transformation taking place with cloud computing.

About IU’s Intelligent Infrastructure

IU’s Intelligent Infrastructure comprises the following components.

• ESX software versions: vSphere 4.0, and vCenter Server 2.5

• Server hardware: HP ProLiant DL585 G5 four-socket, 16-core servers provide 30 total servers with 128Gig RAM per server.

• Storage backend: Hitachi Universal storage platform, SAN fiber channel, and 2 HBAs per server.

• Network connectivity:

o Hewlett Packard 5000 Series switches with VLAN tagged connections

o 210 physical network connections and 1,336 virtual network connections

• Backup service:

o Disaster recovery utility – PHD Technology esXpress backup (VM disk image, replication to remote data center)

o esXpress PRO version 3.6

o ESX server and VM client data backup – Tivoli Storage Manager Server, version 5.5

For more about IU’s Intelligent Infrastructure, see:

To read the program description that gained IU Computerworld Laureate status in 2008, see:

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