Tag Archives: matt eshleman

Virtualization: The Revolution in Server Management and Why You Should Adopt It

This article was co-written by Matt Eshleman of Community IT Innovators and first published on the NTEN Blog in June of 2009.

  

Peter Campbell, Earthjustice and Matthew Eshleman, Community IT Innovators

This year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference offered a good chance to discuss one the most important — but geeky — developments in the world of computers and networks: server virtualization.

Targeting a highly technical session to an NTEN audience is kind of like cooking a gourmet meal with one entrée for 1000 randomly picked people. We knew our attendees would include as many people who were new to the concepts as there were tech-savvy types looking for tips on resolving cache conflicts between the SAN, DBMS and Hypervisor. We aimed to start very broad, focus on use cases, and leave the real tech stuff to the Q&A. We’ll try to do the same in this article.

We’ve already summarized the view from the top in a quick, ignite-style presentation, available wherever fine NTC materials are found (and also on Slideshare).  In a nutshell, virtualization technology allows many computers to run concurrently on one server, each believing it’s the sole occupant. This allows for energy and cost savings, greater efficiency, and some astounding improvements in the manageability of your networks and backups, as servers can be cloned or dragged, dropped and copied, allowing for far less downtime when maintenance is required and easy access to test environments.  It accomplishes this by making the communication between an operating system, like Windows or Linux, generic and hardware-independent.

Most of the discussion related to virtualization has been centered on large data centers and enterprise implementations, but a small network can also take advantage of the benefits that virtualization has to offer. Here are three common scenarios:

  • Using a new server running a virtualization hypervisor to migrate an existing server
  • Using a new server to consolidate 3-4 physical servers to save on electric & warranty expenses
  • Using a storage area network (SAN) to add flexibility and expandability to the infrastructure

In the first scenario, an existing server is converted into a virtual server running on new physical hardware. Tools from VMWare and other vendors allow disks to be resized, additional processor cores to be assigned and RAM to be added. The benefit to this process is that the physical server now exists on a new hardware platform with additional resources. End users are shielded from major disruptions and IT staff are not required to make any changes to scripts or touch workstations.

The second scenario, much like the first case, starts with the addition of new physical hardware to the network. Today’s servers are so powerful, it’s unlikely that more that 5% of their total processing power is used. That excess capacity allows an organization to use virtualization to lower their hardware expenses by consolidating multiple servers on one hardware platform. Ideal candidates are servers that run web & intranet applications, antivirus management, backup, directory services, or terminal services.  Servers that do a lot of transactional processing such as database & email servers can also be virtualized but require a more thoughtful network architecture.

The final scenario involves taking the first step toward a more traditional enterprise implementation, incorporating two physical servers connected to a SAN. In this scenario, the hardware resources continue to be abstracted from the virtual servers. The SAN provides much more flexibility in adding storage capacity and assigning it to the virtual servers as required. Adding multiple server heads onto the SAN will also provide the capacity to take advantage of advanced features such as High Availability, Live Server Migration, and Dynamic Resource Scheduling.

The space for virtualization software is highly competitive. Vendors such as Microsoft, VMWare, Citrix and Virtual Iron continue to lower their prices or provide their virtualization software for free. Using no-cost software, an organization can comfortably run a virtual server environment of 16 virtual servers on 3 physical machines.

The session was followed by a healthy and engaging Q&A, and we were fortunate to have it all transcribed by the incredibility talented Jack Aponte. Scroll down to 10:12 in her NTC Live Blog for a full re-enactment of the session. We can also start a new Q&A, in comments, below.

And stayed tuned for more! The biggest paradigm shift from virtualization is related to the process surrounding the backup and recovery of virtual servers. We’ll be writing an article for the November NTEN newsletter with some detailed scenarios related to backup & disaster recovery in the virtual environment.

The NPTech Lineup

NPTech LogosIt’s time for another quick note on upcoming events and happenings in my nonprofit-focused life. These are spare on details, but I’ll be making noise as they finalize.

First, you’re looking at the newest Idealware board member. There’s still some paperwork to fill out, but this is a done enough deal that it’s worth mentioning here. I join at an exciting time, with our first book on the way; a new website about to be unleashed,  and the successful rollout of the Idealware Research Fund (which met it’s initial goal!).

Coming up in February is the Green IT Consortium/NTEN virtual conference on Greening your Technology. Matt Eshleman of CITIDC and I will be reprising the Server Virtualization session that we did at NTC last year. Mark down the date of February 10th, and look for details very soon, including after-conference get-togethers in SF and DC..

Also in February, but as yet not fully scheduled, I’ll be participating on an NTEN-sponsored panel with representatives of Guidestar, Charity Navigator, and the NPTech/Philanthropy community to discuss the upcoming changes in how these organizations assess nonprofits. I’ve been blogging about this potentially dramatic change in the way NPOs are assessed, along with the associated concerns, here and here.

April brings the big event: NTEN’s Nonprofit Technology Conference, 4/8 to 10, in Atlanta, Georgia this year.  I have a lot going on — I’m assembling a group of NTEN’s more technical presenters to lead the technology track, five sessions that will focus on the less trendy, but eternally critical tasks that nonprofit techs face daily: keeping the servers running (and virtualizing them); installing wireless; supporting computer use and planning and purchasing with little budget.  Our hope is that this track will not only impart a lot of useful information, but also serve as the introduction of a peer community for the front line NP techs. And I’ll be flying down early enough to participate in Day of Service and this year’s experimental unconference, where we’ll, among many other things, discuss how we standardize on shared outcome measurements and what that might look like.

The biggest challenge? Doing all this without breaking the stride on my work at Earthjustice, where I’m busy developing a case management system, installing email archiving software, deploying videoconferencing systems and prepping for Office 2007 and Document Management roll-outs, among other things; blogging weekly for the aforementioned Idealware; and spending as much quality time as I can get with my wonderful wife and kid. If you have any extra hours in the day to donate, send them here!

NTC (Just) Past and Future

Photo by Andrew J. Cohen of Forum1

Photo by Andrew J. Cohen of Forum1

Here it is Saturday, and I’m still reeling from the awesome event that was the Nonprofit Technology Conference, put on by org of awesomeness NTEN. First things first, if you attended, live or virtually, and, like me, you not only appreciate, but are pretty much astounded by the way Holly, Anna, Annaliese, Brett and crew get this amazing event together and remain 100% approachable and sociable while they’re keeping the thing running, then you should show your support here.

We had 1400 people at the sold-out event, and if that hadn’t been a capacity crowd, I’m pretty sure we had at least 200 more people that were turned away. What does that say about this conference in a year when almost all of us have slashed this type of budget in response to a dire economic situation? I think it says that NTEN is an organization that gets, totally, and phenomenally, what the web means to cash-strapped, mission-focused organizations, and, while we have all cut spending, sometimes with the painful sacrifice of treasured people and programs, we know that mastering the web is a sound strategic investment.

Accordingly, social media permeated the event, from the Clay Shirky plenary, to the giant screen of tweets on the wall, and the 80% penetration of social media as topic in the sessions. As usual, I lit a candle for the vast majority of nonprofit techies who are not on Twitter, don’t have an organizational Facebook page, and, instead, spend their days troubleshooting Windows glitches and installing routers. My Monday morning session, presented with guru Matt Eshleman of CITIDC, was on Server Virtualization. If you missed it, @jackaponte did such a complete, accurate transcription, and you can feel like you were there just by reading her notes (scroll down to 10:12) and following along with the slides.

My dream — which I will do my best to make reality — is that next year will include a Geek Track that focuses much harder on the traditional technology support that so many NPTechs need. I stand on record that I’m willing to put this track together and make it great!

I was also quite pleased to do a session on How to Decide, Planning and Prioritizing, based on my chapter of NTEN’s book, Managing Technology to Meet Your Mission.  It was really great to start the session with a question that I’ve always dreamed I’d be able to ask: “Have you read my book?”.  I’m in debt to NTEN for that opportunity!

The biggest omission at this event (um, besides reliable wifi, but what can you do?) was the addition of a twitter name space on our ID badges. Twitter provided a number of things to the — by my estimation — half of the attendees who hang out there.

  • Event anticipation buildup, resource sharing, session coordination and  planning, ride and room sharing and other activities were all rife on Twitter as the conference approached.
  • Session tweeting allowed people both in other sessions and at home to participate and share in some of the great knowledge shared.
  • For me, as a Twitter user who has been on the network for two years and is primarily connected to NTEN members, Twitter did something phenomenal. Catching up with many of my “tweeps”, we just skipped the formalities and dived into the conversations. So much ice is broken when you know who works where, what they focus on in their job, if they have partners and/or kids, what music tastes you share, that catching up in person means diving in deeper. The end result is clear — #09ntc is still an active tag on Twitter, and the conference continues there, and will continue until it quietly evolves into #10ntc.

One thing, however, worries me. This was the tenth NTC, my fifth, but it was the first NTC that the online world noticed. Tuesday, on Twitter, we were the second most popular trend (the competing pandemic outranked us). NTEN’s mission is to help nonprofits use technologies to further their missions. But, as said above, this conference was, in many ways, a social media event. I’m hoping that Holly and crew will review their registration process next year to insure that early spots in what is sure to be an even more popular event aren’t filled up by people who really aren’t as committed to changing the world as they are to keeping up with this trend.

But, concerns aside, we need to send that team to a week-long spa retreat, and be proud of them, and proud of ourselves for not only being a community that cares, but being one that shares. I urge even the most skeptical of you to jump on the Twitter bandwagon, we’re not on there discussing what we had for breakfast. We’re taking the annual event and making it a perpetual one, with the same expertise sharing,  querying, peer support and genuine camaraderie that makes the nptech community so unique – and great. Come join us!