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Virtualization Technology
Photo of Data Center

Source: Eric Herron, System Analyst, Marshall Space Flight Center

The NASA Enterprise Application Competency Center (NEACC) has concentrated in the last few years on efforts to "virtualize" server environments that provide applications and services at Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) and the Agency.

Virtualization means that multiple server environments (e.g., Windows, Linux, etc.) can be housed on a single piece of physical hardware. The server administrator uses a software application to divide one physical server into multiple isolated virtual environments. To the end user, the access to the virtualized server is a seamless experience.

Virtualization is often compared to cloud computing, but is different. Cloud computing, like NASA's Nebula, offers on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources. Virtualization can be offered through a cloud or a more simplified set of resources.

While the promise of saving money has attracted many, most virtualization adopters also quickly discover that the approach offers an array of additional benefits.

Green computing: Green computing attempts to reduce the amount of hazardous materials used, the amount of energy consumed, and promotes recyclability or biodegradability of materials used in computing. Currently the NEACC operates 36 physical servers and 337 virtual machines using VMWare. The floor space reductions achieved in the data center approaches 12 to 1.

Servers and computers generate a lot of heat and break down if they are not kept cool. The NEACC was able to reduce 60 to 70 percent of the amount of space needed in the data center. This resulted in a power reduction ratio of 6 to 1. With the rising costs of utility bills, virtualization can also be a fast track to big savings. An estimated $5 million dollars in infrastructure costs have been avoided and the reduction per cubic foot of floor space used resulted in savings of $250,000.

Expanded flexibility: Virtualization allows centrally managed resource pooling through an enterprise hub to better support business requirements. Virtual machines can also be used to run different versions of operating systems. Such systems may be hard or impossible to run on newer hardware.

Better access: Virtualization's solid foundation and shared infrastructure provides enhanced access to infrastructure and information in the support of business applications and service-oriented architecture (SOA).

Rapid application deployment: Virtualization can provide rapid infrastructure provisioning that requires minutes rather than days. The technology can also make tasks such as system migration, backup and recovery more manageable.

Business resiliency: For easier replication and restoration, virtualization enables adopters to secure and isolate application workloads and data on virtual servers and storage devices. Virtual machines, by isolating what they run, can also provide fault and error containment. Archiving data and replicating the network off site through virtualization is a recipe for a robust disaster recovery plan.

Improved security: Virtual machines can be used to offer secure, isolated test beds for evaluating untrusted applications.

The NEACC is now in the process of designing virtual disaster recovery and rapid recovery architecture for critical NEACC applications. The architecture will benefit the Agency by allowing for continuing operations for NEACC systems and application with minimal service interruption. r