Supporting a virtual infrastructure

Michael Rosier

Michael Rosier, head of the Enterprise Services Department, wrote this column.

The Core Computing Division provides a wide variety of services. In the past we commonly delivered these services using single-purpose physical computer servers. This model was very inefficient since many of our servers were using only a small portion of their physical resources. To improve efficiency, we turned to a technology called server virtualization. Server virtualization allows us to partition a single physical computer into multiple virtual servers. This is quite similar to carpooling or taking public transportation instead of driving your own car to work. The virtualization model allows us to more fully use the resources on each physical computer.

Each of the virtual servers runs its own operating system and own applications and essentially performs as if it were an individual server. The supported operating systems are Windows, Linux and Mac OSX. Fermilab’s primary virtual infrastructure consists of eight physical computers, each capable of providing approximately 40 virtual servers. We estimate that the savings in space and power alone are enough to justify the investment in virtualization technologies. The virtual servers are primarily used to support non-science enterprise applications at the lab. The Scientific Computing Division also provides a virtual infrastructure for scientific needs.

Some of the obvious benefits of using virtual servers include fewer computer purchases, along with the associated asset control issues, less rack space, reduced power and cooling needs, less cabling, and simpler monitoring and management. We also realize other important benefits in the virtualized environment such as faster server provisioning, increased uptime, improved disaster recovery, extending the life of older applications, less vendor lock-in and savings in maintenance costs. Also, virtual servers reduce the number of required equipment moves in and out of data centers because there are fewer physical systems. Finally, one of the major benefits of the virtual infrastructure is the management and monitoring tools that allow us to transparently move applications across the physical computers when extra resources are needed.

Some of the future goals for the virtual infrastructure environment include developing a robust virtual desktop infrastructure for the lab, continuing to migrate more physical systems to virtual machines, and having the ability to quickly set up environments to assist with system upgrades or diagnose complex issues between multiple systems, thereby minimizing the number of development and test systems.