You may have read our primer on Virtualization technology where we detailed some compelling reasons to consider virtualizing some or all of your servers. At the time of writing that article we were not aware of a new program from PG&E that can give you up to $300 rebate per server that you virtualize. While the process is not without some invasive steps, such as before and after inspections, a large project would be well worth the work. Let’s say you were planning to consolidate 20 servers in your data center, that could mean up to $6,000 back from PG&E, not a paltry sum by any means. Even for a smaller business looking to consolidate a small server closet the savings could pay a portion of your installation and configuration costs. This is the sort of creative incentive that shows PG&E is a technically aware organization.
We all know that operating a business can pose many challenges. As your business grows Information Technology tends to get more complicated. You might find that you need a new server to run software that your current server is unable to run. Or perhaps you need to add some redundancy, a second or third server even. Things are starting to get a little cluttered in your server room and your IT costs, cooling and electrical bill are climbing. In most cases a business would consider implementing a larger single or dual servers to consolidate some of the load, but what if there was a more effective way to turn back the tide of rising maintenance and operational costs? The simplest and most effective path is utilizing virtualization technology.
What is Virtualization Technology?
Quite simply, virtualization technology involves software that allows you to run multiple (even different) operating systems on one hardware platform. These “virtual” operating systems are actually stored in files on the hosts file system. Each one acts just like a normal system would, with one exception – there is no physical console (monitor, keyboard and mouse). You access these virtual machines through traditional remote access methods or through special software that gives you console level access to the machine.
What are the benefits of Virtualization Technology?
One of the benefits is fewer points of failure. Quite simply there is less hardware to break and worry about maintaining. Another significant benefit is the better utilization of the resources you have. In most cases servers are over-powered for the roles they perform. We usually add more servers not because we need more memory or processor power but rather because we need to run unique applications that work better when they are isolated. Sometimes security conflicts force us to add more servers, say in the case of a existing file server and a needed external web or Email server. It is unwise to have both of those roles on one physical or virtual server. Ease of access and management is also another characteristic of virtualized systems. You basically have one console where you can monitor a number of servers’ vital signs and operational status. Backing up and restoring a virtual server takes a fraction of the time and resources that it takes to do a physical server. This is because the hardware platform never changes and the hard drives are actually files that can be copied from one machine to another with minimal and in some cases no configuration necessary. Were you to do the same thing with a physical server you would typically spend quite a bit of time and it would generally involve costly disaster recovery solutions be in place. In our practice resurrecting a physical server that has failed takes the better part of an eight hour day and a virtual takes the time it takes to copy the files, generally less than one hour. Now consider what seven hours of extra downtime would cost your business.
Is Virtualization Technology expensive?
Thanks to the competitive nature of this rapidly growing market, no. There are even free products on the market today; one example is Microsoft® Virtual Server 2005 R2. Microsoft is a relatively new player to the virtual server marketplace but they have shaken up the industry and created an atmosphere that is beneficial to smaller businesses that in the past could not afford the technology. When you add up all the factors, virtualization technology is a huge cost savings in startup, maintenance and upgrades. In our assessment, the technology is priceless.
How do I implement Virtualization Technology?
Proceed with caution. There are a lot of things that can go wrong, especially when you are learning something new. If you don’t have the capacity in house, consider hiring an outside firm with Server Virtualization experience. Using the correct resources will lead to a solution that will readily start paying for itself. Try not to put anything mission critical on your first virtual server. Give yourself time to get comfortable with the management and configuration of the product you have chosen. Slowly migrate your roles to the virtualized servers starting with those that are lower priority and moving up from there. Once you are comfortable with the configuration and maintenance you will find yourself eager to consolidate all possible roles to this solution and start reaping the rewards of the improved efficiency.