The arrival in 2009 of Microsoft® Windows® Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V was a game changer for schools. This release of Windows Server included virtualisation built-in, for free. It means that if you’re already using Microsoft technology, you can work within that without adding a new layer of infrastructure and training. As Microsoft puts it, “If you know Windows, you know virtualisation.”


The cost savings

Just how much could be potentially saved? At Microsoft we’ve recorded one or two striking examples. Servers typically cost £3000 each to replace, for example, often on a rolling annual programme.

We talked to three schools about this. Two were reducing from 20 servers to 5, the other from 20 to 6. All three separately calculated annual savings of about £7,000 a year in hardware replacement costs alone.

By the same token, many schools will significantly reduce the cost of contracted IT support. On top of this there are energy savings, because not only do fewer servers use less electricity, but they also cost less to keep cool. Again, the schools tell similar stories, of annual energy savings in the region of £8,000 to £10,000 – good for the school’s environmental impact as well as the budget. Do some simple math, come up with a global sum, and it seems that, at the very least, a virtualisation project will pay for itself quite quickly.

With the project successfully implemented, it will continue, year on year, to make a real impact on the whole-school budget. To give just one specific example, Steve Gillott, Head of ICT at Wootton Bassett School in Wiltshire, describes reducing his school’s servers from 13 to 3. “ It came to a point where we needed to replace the hardware anyway, so money was earmarked for that”.

After seeing a demonstration of Hyper-V by Microsoft Partner Clarity-IT Solutions we decided that the additional benefits of virtualising our server infrastructure was a much better investment than buying replacement servers. The cost savings in the first year alone paid for the virtualisation project.”

It was a decision that saved the school over £38,000 in that first year and continues to save £14,500 a year on
electricity and support contracts.

But does it work?

School network managers were originally cautious about virtualisation. The cost savings looked attractive, but there was a gut feeling that by abandoning the notion of one separate server box for each key function, you were doing something risky. One of the early adopters of Microsoft’s virtualisation solution, the highly experienced Alan Richards of West Hatch High School, ran a year-long small-scale test before he was convinced. Indeed Alan, as you’ll see in his excellent major contribution to our recent Virtualisation eBook (available to view or download below), still recommends a test project. Not so much to make sure the basic technology works, but to be certain of exactly what’s needed for the particular school.

Now, all the doubts about functionality and reliability have gone away. From its launch in 2009, Microsoft’s
Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V technology, has been proving just how efficient and cost effective it can be. Plan properly and carefully, follow the key principles, take the right advice, and what you end up with is a virtualised environment that’s better than the system you had before – easier to manage and easier to change as your school’s needs change, and users aren’t subjected to irritating down time.

For Alan Richards at West Hatch it’s that improved service that really counts. “ It’s obviously nice to save money, but the main reason for the change is to ensure reliability and sustainability for the school. Alan’s right, but it’s also true that by moving in a planned way to a virtualised environment with Hyper-V, the network team is effectively presenting the school with a considerable financial bonus that continues year on year.