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Case Study: Virtualization Delivers A Cost-Saving Lesson

The IT staff at Bowdoin College was faced with having to double the size of the school's 500-square-foot data center back in 2003. Bowdoin's growing need for more services, more applications, and more servers was fast outpacing its capacity. But the $2 million price tag for the expansion was hanging heavy over the IT department.

We were running out of floor space.

"We were running out of floor space," Antonowicz says.

Without the funds to foot the bill but still pressed to expand, Timothy Antonowicz, systems administrator for the liberal arts college in Brunswick, Me., decided to take a different route. Antonowicz moved to consolidate the school's servers by implementing virtual software. This technology lets one physical server operate as multiple virtual servers, with each of the virtual servers able to run one or more distinct applications and even different operating systems.

In Bowdoin's case, turning to virtual servers saved floor space, investment in new servers, and the headaches and costs that would have come with expanding the data center. Antonowicz says Bowdoin only spent about $200,000 on its virtualization project--approximately $150,000 for 16 HP blade servers and the rest on VMware virtual server software. That's one-tenth the cost that had been projected for a more sweeping data center buildout.

Now two and a half years later, 70% of Bowdoin's applications are running virtually. Instead of running what Antonowicz expects would have been 101 physical servers, he has 46 servers, including 16 blades. Of those 46 servers, 10 are running VMware ESX software. Antonowicz figures the server consolidation and the move to virtualization saved the college from having to buy about 60 servers and from having to build onto the data center. In addition to avoiding purchases of new servers, virtualization also obviated the need for increased power and cooling, additional backup costs, and so on.

"It was a snowball we avoided," Antonowicz says. "When all was said and done, $2 million would have been a conservative estimate."

The server consolidation was one of several IT projects that has helped change the IT department's relationship with the business side of the college, which has 1,700 students and a total of 3,500 desktops and laptops to service. Mitchel Davis, chief information officer at Bowdoin, says that by getting major projects such as virtualization done at a fraction of the price of alternatives, IT has not only changed the board's perception of the department, but it has also helped change its entire function at the college.

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