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Virtualized servers save time, money, power

LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. -- "The server is down" are four words you never want to hear at work, especially in Iraq. Global Cyberspace Integration Center Airmen have teamed with Multi- National Corps-Iraq communications people to evaluate server usage and provide methods of
improvement to eliminate this problem, specifically server virtualization. 

At Camp Victory, Baghdad, the current servers directly support 8,000 U.S. and coalition warfighters. Following the implementation of the Server Consolidation for Advanced Leveraging of Equipment, or SCALE, the number of servers necessary to support the base decreased from 56 to nine. 

SCALE is the process of harnessing unused computing and storage capacity through virtualization technologies. Typically, operating systems, software programs and applications run off individual servers and commonly use less than five to 10 percent of the server's capacity. SCALE is able to harness the excess computing capability that is normally wasted and running idle to power separate individual virtual servers without the need for additional hardware. A single box becomes two, three or even 20 plus servers yet still only needs the power and cooling of the one physical box. The operating system is decoupled from the limits of a single system and becomes portable, scalable and fault tolerant in the process. 

"SCALE is the wave of the future for servers," said Maj. Lanny Greenbaum, GCIC SCALE initiative manager. "We no longer have to go out and buy a new server for each application added to the network." 

In Iraq, electrical power is a key commodity and the new virtual servers produce a power savings of 75 percent, an estimated $16,000 per year in electrical cost avoidance alone. They save 80 percent on heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, demands as well. 

"It is largely as a result of [GCIC's] testing that we are moving forward confidently into a new era of server virtualization in Iraq," said Lt. Col. Jim Bell, Multi-National Corps Iraq information systems division chief. 

SCALE enables system administrators to migrate virtual servers to other boxes without interrupting day to day operations when regular maintenance needs to be scheduled. Additionally, when one host server goes down, the applications automatically migrate to alternate hosts with minimal interruption to the end user. The system heals itself and restarts any services it notices missing. The ability to physically move a system from one box to another with no interruption in connectivity is impressive, say GCIC officials. It allows for periodic maintenance without sacrificing operation timeliness. 

SCALE also is a man-power saving capability. The virtualized server essentially provides a "wrapping" around the entire server package. With SCALE there is no longer the need to restore a server by building it from the ground up. System administrators are able to copy and install each operating system and server from a "snap-shot" from a back-up server and have it running in one day compared to a week. This reduces the risk of errors or installation problems. 

"Fail-over recovery is to the point that if one server does go down, by the time you've contacted the help desk, everything is operational again without human intervention," said Tech. Sgt. Robert Eubank, GCIC system administrator noncommissioned officer in charge. 

Following the success of SCALE in Iraq, other Air Force organizations are looking at implementing this virtualization technology into their work environment. The benefits of SCALE enable more effective server resources by reducing man-power efforts, space and HVAC demands required to sustain existing and future operations. Given the constraints of today's shrinking Air Force, server virtualization increases user capability while reducing resource allocation. This concept reduces the cost of the Air and Space Operation Center server environment with a smaller, more efficient solution.