Server Virtualization – It’s Not Just for the Enterprise Anymore

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Server virtualization is a pretty hot topic these days for the SMB space. It was all the rage a couple of years ago in the Enterprise and it is finally sifting down to the rest of us. About time too, I might add.

virtualizationFirst some background… for instance what the heck is server virtualization anyway and why does it matter to you? Good question. Virtualization allow you to take advantage of the uber-powerful server hardware we have at our disposal these days. Most production servers in the typical SMB environment are vastly overpowered and server virtualization allows you to take advantage of that excess power. In a nutshell, instead of running one physical server for a single task, you can run multiple “virtual” servers on one “physical” server . This means you don’t have to spend extra money on physical servers that are for the most part, sitting there all day looking for something to do. Instead, you take one server and run virtual servers that utilize the underlying hardware as though it was exclusively theirs. The virtual servers don’t know they are virtual and they all operate independently of each other. In essence, dependent upon the server that is hosting the virtual machines or “VMs”, you cram multiple servers doing multiple disparate tasks all onto one box. So what are the advantages? Many fold…

It’s free (or pretty darn close to it)

There are really only two big players in the world of virtualization. There is an outfit called VMware that basically wrote the book on it and there is a little upstart company from Redmond, Washington called Microsoft (perhaps you’ve heard of them?) that has a product called Hyper-v. VMware has a free product called ESXi and Microsoft’s Hyper-v is built right into Server 2008 and is therefore free to use dependent upon your license model with Microsoft. Both work really well and neither will cost you a dime. We have customers that run one or the other and in some cases both. VMware also has their Enterprise and much more feature rich products but those are anything but free. And Microsoft also has a licensing model that is based on the version of Server 2008 that you have; you may be able to run one VM, multiple VMs or even unlimited VMs. You do have to have the right server product but once you do, Hyper-v is free.

Drastic Hardware and Software Cost Reduction

Got a data room full of servers doing one lonely little task each? Or perhaps you have applications that don’t play very well with the other kids in the sandbox. You can avoid the high cost of hardware replacement and reduce your energy footprint at the same time through server virtualization. Again, new servers have more horsepower today than we could have ever dreamed about 5 – 10 years ago. And they keep getting faster and more powerful every day; indeed most manufacturers are building servers designed for virtualization (we like these ones). If you could reduce the number of servers you have from 10 down to 2 or 3, why the heck wouldn’t you? As a general rule of thumb ( and I do mean general), you get a minimum of a 2:1 return on your investment and as high as 4:1 or 5:1 dependent upon server roles. Buy one server and run four servers on it. How cool is that?

Better Disaster Recoverability

I can hear you now – “But I don’t have 10 servers. I have 2 (or even 1). I thought you said this was great for the SMB space as well as the Enterprise. What’s going on here?” Besides consolidation, virtualizing your server environment is a real and tangible benefit for the small biz. Let’s say you have 2 servers, both of which are running a single VM on each with enough resources for at least one more (disk space, RAM, etc.). Should one of your physical machines tank on you, you can simply spin up the adversely affected VM on the other “host” and be back up and running in a very small fraction of the time it used to take after a server took a serious face plant.

Future-proof Your Investment

I can still hear you – “But you’re not listening, I have only 1 server so what’s in it for me?” Here’s our best practice: Every server we build goes out as a virtual server so that if someday down the road, you need to add another server, you simply spin it up as a VM on the existing server that we already setup for you as VM ready. You won’t have to buy a new server, you won’t have to buy another copy of Windows Server – nothing. Spinning up a new VM takes a fraction of the time that it takes to build a brand new server from the ground up. And if you never use it, it didn’t cost you anything anyway so no loss. But if you don’t set it up that way from the get-go and you do need a second server, you will rue the day that your support team set you up in a non-virtual environment.

There are many other great reasons why server virtualization is cool but this is a blog not a book so if you really want to find out how virtualization can save you time and money and make your organization more flexible and able to withstand disaster, then you should talk to us and get the full story. And if you outsourced IT provider (or your inside one) isn’t talking to you about this, ask yourself why and then talk to us.