Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Virtualization as a Service now offered to departments

For a full list of virtualization’s benefits and features, go to

Development is in the air with changes in the campus IT structure, and one new program is the launch of Virtualization as a Service (VaaS) for departments.

Virtualization has been in place on a limited basis for several years, but now it is being offered to departments across the Ann Arbor campus as a way to save money and cut costs.

Essentially, virtualization offers unit system administrators the functionality of a server without the cost to house, power, cool, and administer a stand-alone CPU. Instead, units share dedicated space on a server that is housed and maintained elsewhere.

Consolidating multiple servers onto one piece of physical hardware reduces the need for rack space, power, floor space, and administration cost, while increasing server utilization up to 80 percent.

Traditionally, a server is purchased to run a particular system or application. The price of a stand-alone server can vary, depending on capacity and its type, but on average the university pays between $5,000 and $25,000 for a server.

Unfortunately, few servers are used to their full capacity. Many use 10 percent of their capacity or less.  One reason is that units need to size servers for peak loads. However, during non-peak cycles, many stand-alone servers remain relatively unused. Virtualization reduces that unused capacity.

Rather than buying and maintaining their own servers, units pay the campus IT organization to run the server through VaaS. Costs range from $39.91 a month for a small server (one CPU with 1 gigabyte of memory and a 30-gigabyte disk) to $76.15 for a large server (four CPUs with 1 gigabyte of memory and 30-gigabyte disks).

After the initial new-customer request is processed, a new virtual server can be turned around in one business day.

Currently, U-M has 135 virtual servers through VaaS, both Linux and Windows, running on 10 physical servers.

According to the University of California – Santa Cruz, a virtual server requires an average of one-eighth the power and cooling of a stand-alone server. 

Kurt Kaiser, systems administrator for the Law School, has taken full advantage of the service since a pilot program last fall. He signed on to the pilot for disaster recovery and security benefits and found the energy savings to be an added bonus.

“Seriously consider it,” Kaiser recommends to other system administrators on campus. “You can build quickly and test things out for development purposes. Using VaaS will save a lot of space, time, and money in individual units.”

Any size data center or server room can use virtualizations. The new service streamlines the process so that U-M IT professionals can reap the following benefits:

• Avoid downtime with VaaS highly redundant systems.

• Recover data completely in the event of disaster.

• Acquire servers quickly without waiting for equipment to be shipped and set up.

• Meet short-term needs and reduce costs for rarely used systems by purchasing servers on a month-by-month basis (three month minimum).

• Reduce the amount of time spent acquiring, configuring, and managing physical server hardware and associated disaster recovery.

Utilizing VaaS has been an easy transition for Kaiser and proved to be well worth it. The Law School has the bulk of its servers — 14 — virtualized.

“VaaS staff support has been very, very good,” he says.

Include power, cooling and physical maintenance when you calculate the actual costs to operate your own server. The actual costs may be higher than you think. In the example above, savings for a small unit are significant. To download a spreadsheet that offers further details, click here.