For nearly two months, the Digital Infrastructure team in the Office of Information Technology has been busy installing, testing and migrating our server environment. What’s great about that? You didn’t notice it.
 

Some Definitions

Between May 1 and June 25, we upgraded our computing infrastructure, which means we need to talk about servers. 
 
Most people know the term “server,” but fewer can define it. More or less, a server is a high-powered computer that serves another computer, the client. Think of it like a high-powered vending machine, delivering the applications you, the client, request. 
 
For the past 11 years, we’ve been handling our servers with a blade-and-chassis architecture. 

Our old Cisco blade servers on a single chassis. 
Essentially, a chassis is a housing unit for multiple physical servers, all of which share networking or other resources. Those physical servers are blades. To switch analogies, this is a bit like an apartment complex, with each blade making up an individual unit inside the larger apartment building (the chassis). 
 
This summer, we’ve moved away from that apartment model to become homeowners.


Moving Upward and Inward

So far, we’ve been talking about servers as physical beings. Allow us to complicate things more by introducing the concept of virtual servers.  Four of our new eight Dell standalone servers, each housing multiple virtual servers.
 
Whereas the physical blade servers acted like individual apartments within a chassis, virtual servers are roommates inside a physical server home.

After the completion of the upgrade, we’re left with eight physical servers on which 600 virtual servers are running.

The effort is part of our continuing evaluation of the standards and best practices industry-wide. As such, we rely on VMWare, a software company, to provide the visualization platform on which our virtual servers run.


So What?

What does all this mean — and what does it mean for you? To make a long story short, this summer’s work is an extension of our efforts in the past several years: to use software to do things we used to do physically. 
 
Why is that important? It allows us to be more efficient, for one thing. Following this summer’s upgrade, we went from 14 physical servers to eight, while increasing the number of virtual servers we were able to house on those physical servers. 
 
We’re running more applications on fewer physical units. That helps us from a maintenance perspective, and it gives the university’s sustainability efforts a boost. Fewer servers means less energy needed to power those servers and less energy needed to keep them cool. 
 
What will you notice in your day-to-day life at St. Edward’s? Not much — and that’s how we prefer it.