Whether your business is a cash-strapped startup with limited IT infrastructure or a growing company with rapidly changing computing needs, virtualization could be the key to solving a wide array of tech problems. Virtualization is a technology that seems to offer something for everyone; its ability to run multiple virtual servers on a single physical server is just the most obvious feature.
Virtualization can also improve disaster recovery, load balancing, and software testing; reduce hardware costs; save energy; and reduce the physical size of your company's data center. Virtual servers can be moved, while still running, from one physical server to another. It is also much easier to create a new virtual server without worrying about the underlying hardware that it runs on.
If you are new to virtualization, you'll have many things to consider before plunging ahead. To help, I've assembled eight tips that can smooth the move to virtualization at your company.
It is important, as effectiveness guru Stephen Covey would say, to "begin with the end in mind." While your first virtualization project may be just a single server "learning experience," you should still think about your longer-term goals before you begin. This can guide your experimentation, what you need to learn, and your choices for both hardware and software.
What do you hope virtualization will accomplish for you? Give you greater flexibility in operating your data center? Improve redundancy and disaster recovery? Reduce hardware and software costs? Decrease IT headcount? Cut your electric bill? Keep your company from having to build a new data center quite so soon?
Virtualization can help accomplish all these things. It can also allow you to run applications that require an operating system different from the one a particular machine normally uses. It can also deliver virtual PC functionality over the network, allowing users to work with no applications or data actually resident on their machines.
All these things are possible, but not automatic. Once set up, virtual servers are much more flexible and easier to support than having an equal number of physical servers. However, the virtual world is different and takes getting used to.
Virtualization allows companies to reduce the total number of physical servers necessary to run their data centers. Reducing the amount of server hardware reduces energy, cooling, and floor space requirements. Each has a dollar value associated with it, and these expenses should decrease, perhaps dramatically, as physical servers are replaced by virtual servers.
Understand That Applications Rule
Your first contact in building a virtualization program should be with your line-of-business applications vendors. Do they support virtualization and, if so, on what platforms? Do they have hardware recommendations? Are user-to-user virtualization forums available where you might meet others facing the same challenges you face?
Choose between VMware and Microsoft
The truth about choosing a hypervisor, the software that makes virtualization possible, is that you may not have a choice.
The line of business applications you run may have already made the decision for you. If your key applications are supported by only one hypervisor or the other, or if your vendor simply likes, say, VMware ESXi more than Microsoft's HyperVisor, your decision is made for you.
With experience, it may be possible to make the decision for yourself, but if easy migration is key, stick to the advice offered by your application vendors. They generally know what works best.
Microsoft is using pricing and other incentives to help customers remain true to Redmond as they virtualize, and VMware may find it hard to compete over the long haul. In some cases, customers say, Microsoft is already making it difficult, expensive, and sometimes even impossible to get support for its products running on VMware servers.
Many small businesses end up using both Microsoft and VMware hypervisors because of a mix of support versus performance issues. Or they may limit their first virtualization projects to a single company's hypervisor and the applications it best supports.
Make sure you have support issues solved before building a production system or risk the consequences. Also, look at pricing, as Microsoft has developed some virtualization-friendly pricing schemes.