Martin’s Weblog

video confession 10

 “The Network is the Computer” – we have always connected everything but are preparing for a paradigm shift to “The Network is our computer” (1) by anticipating and encouraging the use of web 2 systems. Such use will demand more of our network and of our systems.To prepare the college has started some major upgrades and developments – over the next 12 months we are:

* Upgrading inter-site circuits from 100Mbps to 1Gbps (to cope with higher demand)

* Installing physically diverse inter-site and internet backup connections (to improve continuity)

* Re-engineering our routing and Internet access (to offer new features)

* Installing new core switches from Extreme (to cope with higher demand, improve reliability and add features)

* Installing new Wireless access from Aruba (to cope with higher demand, improve speed, reliability and coverage)

* using Virtual systems (to offer a quicker response to new system deployment and improve continuity).

Virtual machines have proved to have real benefits and at the college we have been using virtual servers and desktops in development, to deploy services faster and to improve continuity.

One of the pressures on IT systems these days is the tremendous demand for storage and I anticipate that virtualisation can help with this too. Interestingly, networking plays a key role in recent virtual storage scenarios.

One form of storage virtualisation is to treat it as a service and make use of massive external systems like Google (use Google Docs, Youtube video), Flickr for photo’s and Microsoft Livespace for file storage. However, the pressure for ever increasing internal storage continues and I will be looking at two systems.

The easiest place to start with standard file storage where space rather than performance is the issue – things like user home folders (Z: drive), shared file storage like our “Pool” folders (P: drive), technicians storage area and the media storage areas (where marketing and the design team keep lots of photos and videos). For this standard large NAS (Network Attached Storage) should give us what we are looking for and I shall be looking at NAS first.

Another interesting option is to look at virtual storage for virtual servers where performance is not crucial – for this NAS could also be used but I will also have a look at iSCSI systems.

In the video

Our senior management team are away on a budget conference meeting which means that all their offices are empty and available- I managed to bag the principal’s office to hold a meeting with suppliers to talk about network and storage virtualisation.

Kevin from Vanix gets in a good plug for his company as “one of the UK’s premier network integrators – Guildford, Paris, Peckham”. Kevin briefly describes the work of Vanix on our Extreme backbone network and their work on our early installation of Aruba 802.11n equipment. 

Jon from Onstor distributor Zycko talks about “off-loading our budget” – storage virtualisation has many advantages but could be a little expensive by the sounds of it – the Onstor NAS systems are certainly big and impressive.

The link here explains virtualisation and provides the explanation below.

“In general terms, virtualisation refers to the abstraction of computer resources so they can be logically assigned. It is a technique for hiding the physical characteristics of computing resources from the way in which other systems, applications or end users interact with those resources.”

 (1) Thanks to Mark Gobin for the phrase “The Network Is Our Computer”

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March 8, 2008 Posted by | video blog, virtualsation, web 2 | Leave a comment

Why I like Virtual Servers

The “solutions” from the IT industry over the last decade haven’t appealed to me a great deal. I have found clustering and storage area networks (SAN) too complex – complexity can interfere with fast recovery and support.  Blade servers offered little that was new – just packed server functions into a smaller and smaller space.

Virtual servers however offer something new and actually useful to computer users – no wonder IT people and the IT industry are raving about them.

In a sense operating systems like Linux and Windows provide virtual machines for applications. Applications  like Word or Exchange for instance  talk to the operating system rather than the hardware directly. The trouble is that applications these days bind quite tightly into the operating system and the operating system-application become like a kind of super package. Virtual machines provide a way of dealing with the operating system-application super package and let us treat it as if the whole lot were itself an application – see  the Microsoft’s VHD catalogue for example.

I have been experimenting with the  Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1 – this lets you get started on a familiar platform, is free and is really easy to use. I am planning a move to virtual servers for most of our application servers (e.g. finance, personnel, on-line testing), development servers, moderate use web servers and helpdesk systems. In fact I don’t see why all servers apart from really busy (email back ends) and really big (multimedia and file) shouldn’t be moved to virtual. I will be moving to virtual as fast as I am able and can anticipate replacing about 30 servers with about 5 or 6 virtual server hosts.

System Centre Virtual Machine Manager 2007 (SCVMM) – promises the amazing option of converting a real server to virtual by “pointing” a management screen at the real server – this will do wonders for moving all those difficult application servers where the only way to move them is to re-install the application on the target machine. I had tried the beta version of this in July but couldn’t get it working so look forward to another go with the “gold code”.

Also check out the amazing new way of evaluating new systems at Microsoft’s VHD catalogue. Instead of downloading an application and then installing it you can instead  download a packaged environment  as a virtual machine – an operating systems and application all configured for you – this is how I trialled the SCVMM. The only downside of this is that the virtual machine is a multi-Gb download but with the Microsoft download agent this only took 30 minutes on our college internet connection.

From the point of view of an IT manager this is why I like virtual servers 

They save space  

I am planning to run from 4 to 8 virtual servers per host server – that saves the space of 7 servers

They save power

Each server uses two loads of electricity – one load to run it and one load for the air conditioning units to cool it. Instead powering 8 servers I can now power one host server – saving the college money and saving the environment at the same time. The space saving also makes the cooling more efficient – another saving.

They offer new options for business continuity

Even with the relatively simple Microsoft Virtual Server  a virtual server “image” (.vhd and .vmc files) can be stored on a standby host server and turned on in minutes if need be in a very simple operation. This is great for the multitude of application servers which don’t change and hold little data.

They offer new options for systems development

Instead of installing a new feature, messing up a server and then having to spend hours re-installing the whole server again with a virtual server you can just copy back the “image” and start again in about 15 minutes or discard state changes and carry on as if nothing happened.

They offer new options for business agility

New servers can be set up and tested in minutes rather than hours

October 2, 2007 Posted by | ICT, virtualsation | Leave a comment

What is 2

What you do rather than what you use

It is possible to get too carried away with trying to describe, explain and define what 2 is and try artificially to exclude certain things because they aren’t 2 enough.  The process of looking too hard at it could make it disappear.

The essence of 2 is social and involves participation, collaboration and DIY.  Cavemen did it, animals do it (think of pack hunters for example), we do it in our everyday lives all the time and it can even take place in some meetings.

What marks out the current wave of 2 is that it involves the virtual and mediation by ICT – Facebook for example attempts to do virtually what we do with physical presence – meet, share things, chat etc.

The important thing for me is seeing 2 in whatever flavour whether wholly virtual or wholly physical or any degree in the middle.

Teaching with role play and simulation with no technology at all is as valid as teaching using second life for example. The crucial thing is to engage the students and use methods which connect with them – today this often means on-line environments like facebook, youtube, blogs etc.

September 19, 2007 Posted by | IT and education, paradigm 2, virtualsation, web 2 | Leave a comment

Virtualisation – 1

Virtualisation – to be able to represent the real world by some abstract means is necessary to be conscious and provides the tools to develop intelligence. Symbols (language, maths  etc)  allow us to share virtualisations and interact via them.

Virtualisation is nothing new but it is the degree to which it is carried out that provides the advantage. Spoken language – written language – telephony – the internet – these have been the major developments in virtualisation through history.

In this early part of the 21st century citizens of the developed nations live with virtualisation unimaginable 150 years ago – mobile phones, TV, radio and of course the Internet. Virtualisations have had major impacts on society – consider the printing press or how TV has affected how we spend our time.

It is anticipated that virtualisations mediated by the Internet will have a major impact on society- consider the current developments involving remote working and learning, the rapid rise of social networking, web 2 and virtual worlds. Consider the amount of time people now spend with electronic virtualisation each day – TV, radio, electronic games, telephones, email, social networks, web sites.  It is expected that the amount of time we spend in virtual worlds will increase – however, there are only so many hours in the day.

How will we cope?

What will be the effects on the real world and real society?

What about equal opportunities?

How will these virtual words develop?

September 2, 2007 Posted by | IT and society, virtualsation | Leave a comment