As part of this continuing series on XenServer as the platform for public and private clouds, we had the opportunity right before the holidays to sit down with the Infrastructure Systems and Services Group within Texas A&M’s Computing and Information Services (CIS) department to discuss how they are using XenServer and how they plan to leverage the platform going forward. 

This group is responsible for a variety of campus-wide communications solutions, including messaging services, directory systems, logon and authentication infrastructure, storage networks, and systems and services pertaining to the domain. It also provides general computing services to university departments on a per-request, or ad hoc basis. When a department needs infrastructure and support services for a new workload or computing project, it can contract with the CIS to obtain what it needs.

In total, CIS provides general computing for approximately 30 percent of the university’s datacenter resources. 

The organization is set up as an internal service provider to university departments on a per-request, or ad hoc basis. So, when a department needs infrastructure and support services for a new workload or computing project, it can contract with the Infrastructure Group to obtain what it needs. As such, the Infrastructure Group is operated as a cost recovery center. Funding is obtained primarily via a chargeback mechanism involving a combination of fixed and usage-based rates that are calculated as part of a cost analysis that is performed annually.

The picture that emerged from these discussions is of a group that must deliver its services in a timely manner and at a reasonable cost, or risk having their “customers” turn elsewhere – for example, deliver the services themselves or engage external providers.

This, in my view, is a pattern and structure that is playing out in IT shops the world over… the implicit demand of which is, “deliver me better services cheaply or I will find someone who will”….and cloud computing is simply the latest tool (or set of tools) IT shops can use to address those demands.

Getting Cloudy with XenServer 

Indeed, not too long ago the Infrastructure Group was faced with several challenges in this regard. Most acute – their ability to roll out ad hoc computing services in a timely manner.  This was because whenever a request was received, server infrastructure would need to be purchased, received, installed, and configured before the associated service could be made available – by no means a complex process, but certainly a time-consuming and relatively expensive one to execute. Furthermore, many of the servers employed in this manner were routinely under-utilized, resulting in an inefficient use of datacenter resources and greater costs being passed on to the university’s departments.

To address its mounting service delivery challenges, the CIS team turned to server virtualization technology. The goal was not just to optimize and consolidate its server resources but also to establish an infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) platform and facilitate evolution to a private cloud-computing model

CIS selected Citrix XenServer to be the foundation of their private cloud as they found the platform exceeded all others in terms of their performance, flexibility and value requirements. According to the team at A&M, the results of phase 1 have exceeded expectations.  A&M has virtualized over 120 workloads while reducing its infrastructure requirements 6 fold.  At the same time, the group estimates it cut its datacenter footprint by more than 60%.  This has helped to deliver considerable savings in terms of ongoing maintenance and power and cooling costs- all while reducing the time to standing up new services from weeks to less the 30 minutes. 

In total the group has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars that would have been spent on hardware refreshes, datacenter operations and in time saved from ongoing maintenance and service provisioning.

As the Infrastructure Group looks forward to phase 2, they are planning to roll out cloud based services to the 10 colleges, 82 departments and over 50,000 students that make up the A&M system, the team is looking drive centralized, single-image management, web based self-service and an on-demand/just-in-time delivery model of key computing workloads.

Together these “cloud services” should allow the team to further streamline operations, accrue even greater savings and truly transform the delivery of IT services at the university.