Getting started on your virtualisation journey

According to EduGeek, an educational ICT forum, an average secondary school has 12 servers and this can be quite costly. A server will cost approximately £3k, plus electricity and maintenance costs, it takes up space and needs replacing every few years.

But it doesn’t have to be like this.

By virtualising your infrastructure, or at least part of it, you can replace your physical servers with virtual ones. It means they exist as software, which are consolidated onto fewer physical servers, freeing up space on your server room floor.

Before he joined Foundation SP as a Senior Consultant, Alan Richards was the IT Manager of West Hatch High School. Skeptical at first about virtulising his infrastructure, Alan ran a yearlong pilot before being convinced it was the best way forward for his school, eventually reducing 24 servers into just 9. He calculated that it saved his school £12,000 each year, and the virtualisation project paid for itself in three years.

The journey into virtualisation

Together with Microsoft, Alan has produced this great ebook, which goes into more detail about his experience at West Hatch High School, and the process involved in virtualising your IT infrastructure. The following diagram provides an overview:

Virtualisation journeyPlan your project

Without a clear plan your project is doomed to fail. Start by researching and learning about different vendor solutions, and what other schools have done to get an idea of what would be right for your school.

Seem daunting?

Use a partner. They’ve done all the hard work for you already and have experience of what does/doesn’t work and things to be aware of during your project. They will be able to advise you and help design a solution that’s right for your school.

Run a trial

Before embarking on a full implementation think about running a trial. This allows you to test how well a virtual infrastructure would work for you and identify potential issues ahead of time.

Do the ground work

This involves identifying your starting point. Make a list of everything you have in place, and what it does for your overall IT infrastructure.

For example, consider your servers, disks, network monitoring tools, network load, CPU load…etc.

Then decide whether you want to virtualise all, or just parts of your infrastructure. Again, a good partner will listen to your needs and be able to offer recommendations on which path you should take.

Decide on a virtualisation scenario

It’s important to consider your future growth and redundancy before deciding on the final solution. Otherwise you’ll implement something that needs updating as soon as you’ve installed it.

Once you know what you need, it’s time to decide on the technology you want. Consider things like costs, licensing, familiarity and the need for training, consistency and how it will integrate with the rest of your current infrastructure and the hardware itself – for example the number of virtual servers you require, network bandwidth, memory, central processing unit, storage, redundancy, backup, connectivity, expandability…etc.

Spending time specifying your solution will ultimately mean a smoother installation.

Time for the installation

The following is a simplistic view of installing your virtualised infrastructure:

  • Connect your hosts to your network
  • Set up your storage LUN’s
  • Connect your hosts to your storage solution
  • Install a virtualisation hypervisor to your hosts
  • Connect them to the management software
  • Enable high-availability (HA) across the hosts
  • Install your virtual servers

Sounds simple, and if you’ve performed sufficient planning ahead of time it should be a relatively stress-free implementation. But if in doubt, always consult someone as it’ll save you time and money in the long-run.

On-going management

Congratulations! Your virtualised IT infrastructure is up and running, and hopefully you’re reaping the rewards. But your journey isn’t over yet, now maintenance is essential with regular updates and patches. By continuously monitoring and caring for your infrastructure you can identify problems before they occur and protect your investment.

Need some help?

If you’re thinking about starting your journey to a virtualised infrastructure, why not contact us? One of our consultants would be happy to offer guidance on how you can move from the physical to the virtual world, answering any questions you may have, explaining potential caveats and providing technology recommendations.

Author: Martin Bance, Infrastructure Practice Lead

MartinMartin is responsible for all aspects of the delivery of infrastructure related consultancy, engineering and managed services engagements through the expert eyes and hands of the technical team. Involved in the complete lifecycle of engagements from presales through proposal and design into project delivery and then onwards into managed services. He has a strong background in enterprise and solution architecture, Infrastructure management and service delivery focused always focused on our clients’ business goals and looking to see how IT can help deliver benefit and realise the ambitions of the organisation.


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