In many ways, the civil engineering department at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, and its CIO, Thomas Mather, represent the new virtualization model. Mather wasn't lured to virtualization by the promise of smaller server counts. His interest was driven by a desire to serve up applications to students wherever they roam on campus, rather than limiting them to the 150 computers available in the department's undergraduate and graduate labs.
"I don't use virtualization in the traditional sense of trying to save money," says Mather. "I do it for performance. Our goal is to give our 1,400 students the lab experience, but at a distance."
Mather has set up an elaborate desktop virtualization environment. He started several years ago by virtualizing three of the department's 18 Windows servers, ensuring that his staff isn't biting off more than it can chew. He has continued virtualizing servers in small batches. Today, all 18 machines are virtualized using Microsoft's Hyper-V technology, and a connection broker lets any student running a remote desktop client access those servers, whether they're in the lab or not.
As a result, the department's modest server farm can support up to 300 concurrent users accessing powerful applications such as the three-dimensional design program Autocad from locations all over campus--including classrooms, dorm rooms, libraries and cafeterias. A program called Diskeeper is used to optimize virtualization environments by constantly defragmenting files and consolidating disk space, enabling virtualized applications to run quickly and reliably, Mather says.