September 2021 CIO Update
Fall semester is in full swing with the “new normal” becoming even more well, normal. The term “hybrid” is one we use and hear often, whether we’re talking about instructional delivery, work arrangements, cloud technology, or higher education in general. For this month’s entry, I am featuring some of our infrastructure offerings as well as highlighting a couple of new projects that are helping us be “more hybrid.”
University Computer Center (UCC): Virtualization and VMware
The VCU Computer Center’s mission is to provide secure, reliable, and cost-effective computing power, data storage, and system backup and recovery services to the VCU community. The Computer Center is home to a majority of the systems utilized by the schools, colleges, and divisions at VCU. UCC personnel provide 24×7 operations and systems support to ensure continuity of applications and services. Applications like myVCU portal, VCUCard, among others, plus shared drives are secured and running on hardware located at the UCC.
The VCU Computer Center has 32 staff members who provide support for 1200+ virtual machines running on 60 VMware vSphere hypervisors, as well as 250 physical servers. Data for all of these systems is stored and maintained on 4.4 petabytes of mixed storage technologies. The VMware team maintains the virtual machine infrastructure and creates VMs during the server provisioning process. The storage team administers both structured and unstructured storage systems that enterprise operations rely on. The storage administrators provide large datastores to the virtual machine and enterprise databases and create file shares for departmental shared drives.
Windows and Linux operating systems are secured by system administration teams while Oracle, MySQL and MSSQL databases are administered by the database administration team. The Network Operations Center handles all physical infrastructure procedures, network and server monitoring, and offers custom service level agreements.
VCU Technology Services has used VMware vSphere since 2008 and has taken a virtualization first approach since 2015. 70% of VCU applications are virtualized, 30% remain physical – some systems like high performance computing and resource intensive database systems are not a great fit for virtualization.
- Virtualization provides greater efficiency – a virtual host, also called a hypervisor, can host many virtual machines. This saves power, space, and money. Some clusters are purpose built, like virtual desktops and Avaya telecommunications, and others are general shared production.
- Clusters provide virtual machine agility – since virtual machine storage is shared, a running VM can be moved to another host in under 30 seconds with no disruption. This means no outage for physical hardware maintenance and other planned outages.
- Resource balancing in clusters – clusters load balance the set of virtual machines across the physical hardware for optimal performance.
- Virtual Machine High Availability – if vCenter VMware management detects that a physical system has crashed, it will restart the VMs that were on that host on another host in the cluster.
All servers have network connections and only a subset are directly connected to the storage arrays, and the campus core network allows high speed replication of data from UCC to Harris Hall. Servers and storage are configured in both active and passive configurations for disaster recovery. Nine of the twelve VMware clusters use fiber channel storage on the Dell Unity 500 enterprise SAN. Three clusters are Dell VxRail hyper converged infrastructure that uses all flash virtual SAN for extreme performance. Virtual machines are backed up by IBM Spectrum Protect for local backup and replicated to Harris Hall for disaster recovery.
If you have an application that needs to be deployed, or a large storage or computational need, please reach out to the NOC (email@example.com) and we will work with you to provision, secure, and deploy the resources you need.
New Technology Services Projects
In January 2022, we will start the process of migrating our Banner ERP system out of the UCC and into the Ellucian Managed Hosting Environment (also known as Ellucian Cloud). This will allow for a more robust and flexible infrastructure environment with failover and business continuity capabilities we’ve not had before. Our current project plan has this work being completed by December, 2022. I will provide more detail on this in the coming months.
We are also beginning to expand our business intelligence and data warehousing capacity. Partnering with VCU Institutional Research and Decision Support (IRDS), we have recently contracted with Strata Information Group (SIG) to build out functional and technical requirements not currently being met and we will pilot Snowflake, a cloud-based data warehousing tool, to help deliver a more robust data warehousing infrastructure that can be leveraged for enhance dashboards and reports. I will also provide more detail on this in a future entry.
As always, I thank the great team of IT professionals at VCU who have continued to diligently serve the serve the VCU community.