To Virtualize or Not to Virtualize, that is the question… (Server edition)

If you have been paying attention to the IT world for the past few years then you have probably heard about virtualization technology. Alternatively, you may be familiar with names like Citrix Xenapp, Microsoft Hyper V and VMWare Vsphere. One of the biggest questions we get today from small and medium-sized business customers is “What is virtualization and why should I care?”  The answers are often unique to each customer but I’ll try to illuminate what virtualization is and how it may help your business.

So what is virtualization? Server virtualization is designed around getting more efficiency out of server hardware.  Essentially, server virtualization breaks the one physical server per single application ratio. This allows you to harness the available power of your underutilized servers. Once a server is virtualized you are able to have one server running multiple “server instances” referred to as “Virtual Machines”. These can run Windows, Linux, Novel or a host of other operating systems and applications on the same physical device. I often use the analogy of having a vehicle with one seat or one with multiple seats.  You have a vehicle either way but the second vehicle is more flexible and efficient.

So why do you care? If you currently have multiple servers you should at least look into virtualization because there are many benefits.

Less Downtime for Business Critical Applications

Virtualization increases the availability of hardware and applications by dynamically allocating and balancing server capacity and the placement of your “Virtual Machines”. This allows your hardware resources to be available on demand for applications and systems you decide are most critical. Downtime is reduced by utilizing live migration tools during software patches and hardware upgrades. This means your applications are available to you when required. In the case of a critical failure, dissimilar hardware recovery, downtime is dramatically reduced as you no longer have to find the exact same hardware to get your applications back up and running.

Reduced Technical Support Costs

Technical support costs are greatly reduced by the use of a single point of management control. This allows new virtual servers to be provisioned 50-70% faster than historical methods of deployment.  Your IT group can manage all physical and virtual servers from one location reducing the time it takes for them to keep your systems running at peak performance. Since you can update, maintain and patch your existing hardware during normal business hours without impacting normal operations, off-hours work is no longer required, reducing overtime costs.

Server Consolidation and Optimization

If you are in the process of an infrastructure review, server consolidation is a large benefit . Most servers only achieve a 5-15% utilization rate; by consolidation we often achieve 80% utilization. In our experience, virtualization achieves an average consolidation ratio of 4 applications to 1 server (as high as 10 to 1).  This means you can purchase fewer physical servers to do the same job.

Decreased Hydro Costs and Environmental Impact

Hydro and environmental costs are reduced by the reduction of physical server devices. The fewer servers you have, the less power they draw. Fewer servers also means less heat exhaust and therefore less hydro and resources consumed to counteract this effect. These costs can be further reduced by the utilization of virtualization specific hardware which has lower cooling and hydro demands.

Using live migration tools enhances operational flexibility by avoiding planned downtime. This allows for software installation and configuration to happen without impacting your day to day operations. Operational flexibility is further increased be enabling dynamic policy-based resource allocation. By determining which applications are most critical, you can ensure they always have the resources required. During peak activity these applications can draw additional resources reducing or eliminating slowdowns due to increased server usage.

It’s “Virtually” a no-brainer for many companies

Though virtualization may not be beneficial for every company, if you run two or more servers, virtualization is something you should consider.  There is an astounding argument for virtualization for companies running many critical applications on multiple servers. This article has highlighted only a few of the benefits that your organization can expect.  As always, find a company you can trust to help determine if virtualization is right for your business.

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