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Server Virtualization

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By Jaime Gmach, Evolving Solutions

The Healthcare Server Consolidation Dream
Because the storage and storage management needs of many Healthcare Information Systems are more than doubling each year, IT professionals dream of robust data on-demand environments that allow their storage area network environments to be capable of processing data from chemistry analyzers to radiology picture archiving information systems, AND at the same time be able to maintain patient data records and Email systems.

The Reality of Storage Virtualization
Luckily, the dream world of server “morphing” – or server virtualization – is becoming a reality for Healthcare IS professionals Although most healthcare IS environments are not yet taking advantage of virtual server expansion and contraction capabilities today, it is possible to “borrow” CPU and/or memory capacity from servers, which are currently not being “taxed”, and return that same CPU and memory capacity back to their original “owners”- in their original state. Imagine healthcare information server systems being spoofed to think they have unlimited CPU and memory capacity and subsequently never again surpassing processing or workload thresholds!

Engineers at Evolving Solutions, Inc., a data on-demand and storage consultation company that works with healthcare IT professionals predict that by early 2005, servers auto-monitoring and auto-adjusting for data on-demand requirements will be appearing far more frequently in healthcare IS environments. More than simply a foray into virtualization; they feel we will soon witness a complete leap into “autonomic computing”.

Server Virtualization – Why Not Now?
Many healthcare IS professionals may be wondering, if server virtualization is available today, why aren’t more healthcare IT environments taking advantage of this type of money-saving / resource-sharing solution? Because it is as new a concept now, as hybrid vehicles were ten years ago. Ten years from now, hybrid vehicles will no doubt be common place. Many IS professionals however, do not desire to wait ten to twenty years to virtualize their healthcare IT environment.

The following three steps are designed to get your healthcare information system driving in the direction of autonomic computing.

Server Virtualization – The First Steps

Step 1 – Assess & Validate
Conduct an environmental assessment to define server processing needs. Poll all servers to identify current CPU, memory, adaptors and file/system capacity and total used and unallocated disk space (be sure to account for all archive file space as it often takes up to 30%-40% of all data storage – much of it in duplicate and triplicate form). Identify; CPU, memory and adaptor usage peaks, read, write, and wait cycle peaks.

Step 2 – Rationalize and Critique
Critique your current server environment. Identify and consolidate processing-compatible applications to single servers, or virtualize your existing multi-server environment to share processing attributes from a common pool. The second choice will aid you in the reduction of purchasing new servers for every new application. As a result you would increase utilization of your existing servers from a typical 10 – 20% to a more efficient 40 -50%. More importantly, you will drastically decrease your “unexpected” outages while turning your one-to-one, limited-growth environment into a completely flexible and scalable solution without throwing out your existing investment.

Identify mission critical servers. Leave those servers in a one-to-one relationship for your heavy-hitting applications. Then, consolidate your non heavy-hitting applications and virtualize the remaining servers to form a common pool of hardware resources. Finally, configure the above mentioned CPU, memory, and adaptor resource pool to be shared with the heavy hitting servers/ applications – whenever it is needed.

Step 3 – Stop Investing
Stop thinking your only storage solution is to buy another server. Chances are you are not taxing your existing servers enough. Start “carpooling” your data and available resources!

Tap into your existing hardware pool and reduce the number of servers you feel you have to buy simply to increase on-demand processing capacity. Odds are high that you don’t need to add a server to increase your CPU and/or memory horsepower or even add to your existing server pool. Chances are you are positioned to cascade much of your existing servers and reduce your related server budget for years to come… starting today!

Autonomic Computing
Soon, healthcare production-level servers will be configured to perform internal “automated health checks” from I/O processing needs to page and buffer credit settings. They will identify their own CPU, memory, and adaptor requirements. Virtualized healthcare servers will reach out to idle servers and borrow capacity in order to complete information processing tasks. Then, without human prompting, these virtualized servers will return the capacity when it is no longer needed.

The ultimate goal of server virtualization is autonomic computing; that is capacity and healthcare data on-demand regardless of size, processing demands, resource needs, time of day or night, or human availability.

About the Writer
Jaime J. Gmach – President, Evolving Solutions
Jaime Gmach co-founded Evolving Solutions in January of 1996 after spending the previous ten years sharpening his entrepreneurial skills in various elements of the technology industry. He previously served in roles ranging from Customer Engineer and Director of Technical Services to Sales Manager and finally to President of Evolving Solutions. Jaime’s strong technical perspective comes from years of face-to-face interaction with clients to design and implement their desired business solutions.