McGill Guide: Virtual Machine

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This program allows researchers, units, or teams of researchers to purchase an online Virtual Machine or Server (VM) which runs a server ‘container’ on a shared physical machine. In short it is a server, but only has a virtual existence. VMs are governed by a Service Level Agreement with NCS.

Because it IS an actual server, this is the most flexible among NCS’s current solutions for research cyber-infrastructure. Virtual Machines are ideal for content management systems and digital research that requires server-sided scripts, applications, or other bells and whistles.

At the same time it is also the most costly of the solutions, running at $5000 for a three-year contract. The standard provisions include Linux or Windows, 4GB of memory, dual core processing, and 60GB of storage with Tier 1 support. Additional memory, to a max of 5GB, is available for $250, whereas additional disk space (storage) is available via SAN (Storage Area Network) for a separate charge. There are many advantages to this system, least of which is a McGill-based solution. Clients have remote access to their VM, including power on/off but they do not have physical access.

Even so, similar provisions in the private sector can cost c. $50/year by comparison without the Tier 1 support, and additional disk space is not rationed.

Some issues to consider:
Of all the options offered by ITS, this is the most intensive in terms of IT development. Tasks can be divided, however, between a webmaster (frontend website development) and a server administrator (backend server coding and scripting), or any combination.
It is not clear from ITS documentation or from past experiences of projects using this service what Tier 1 Support actually entails. In some instances this has meant actual development support, in others, none.
Although any front ends constructed on the machine will be able to handle any users you may have (ie you can set it up so that non-mcgill users have access to web content), non-mcgill researchers who need access to the VM will have to obtain a mcgill login as per ITS’s current security protocol. This can impact development time and processes, especially for external RAs, students, and private partners.

Flexible environment for limited research development within the parameters set by NCS configurations.
Allows for access to machine beyond simple webspace; scripts, applications, etc. can be run on the server independent of viewable webpages etc. More languages other than PHP.
IPs can be mapped to non-mcgill domains.
VMs are backed up.

Cost is prohibitive for individual researchers, and extremely disproportionate to private sector solutions.
Non-McGill access to server requires mcgill login.
Not all CMS work with the current VM configuration – WordPress, for example, is typically barred by NCS. Drupal, perhaps might work.
Not clear what Tier 1 Support actually means from ITS knowledge base.

Ideally for:
Large research groups using established software and applications, with budget resources for IT personnel and development.

Completely at the discretion of the users.