Server Virtualization Unleashes the Power of Small

Posted February 14, 2012

-- Written by Jill Billhorn

Small is beautiful -- every small business owner understands that implicitly.  Now small businesses are discovering a different kind of beauty in small:  server virtualization. This software technology allows one small server to act with the power of five or 10, by installing separate, independent operating systems within the same physical machine.

Once perceived as complex and only for larger organizations, server virtualization now delivers efficiencies to small business IT as well.  It increases the productivity, agility, and scalability of computing resources and the business itself, with an attending boost in a company's return on its IT investments. 

Bottom line, it means significant cost savings for the small business, in data center management, in hardware investment and on the power bill.


A recent CDW report found that 25 percent of small businesses, attracted by efficiency, cost savings, and flexibility, have virtualized at least some of their servers to meet changing business demands. 

The report also found that the average percentage of servers virtualized at those businesses grew steadily from 28 percent to 33 percent between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2011.

Even among small businesses that have not yet implemented server virtualization, 73 percent report that they are investigating or planning to deploy virtualization technology, with investments averaging 17 percent of their IT budgets over the next two years.

Are you interested in your small business becoming part of that 25 percent?  It should be, considering that two-thirds of small businesses that have virtualized their server environments say doing so has significantly increased the ROI of their IT.  But how do you determine whether virtualization is right for you?  There is no universal answer, but any of the below factors would suggest that your business can benefit significantly from virtualization:

  • Upcoming need to replace aging servers
  • Currently running five to seven or more physical servers
  • Low utilization rates of existing servers
  • Server sprawl
  • Constrained data center space
  • Escalating support, energy, and/or space costs
  • Significant business growth ahead
  • High availability of data and applications required
  • Risk of disruption from natural disasters/other events

If any of the above apply to your small business, the only true requirements are that your business currently owns or plans to invest in shared storage, and that you have virtualization-savvy IT staff or technology partners (or access to training for staff), as virtualization requires new skills and knowledge to manage effectively.  Need additional help determining if your business is a good candidate?  Check out CDW’s free self-assessment tool.   

Are you ready to start your journey to a more virtual environment?  Consider enlisting the help of the CDW Small Business Virtualization Roadmap.  The roadmap provides five key steps in deployment of server virtualization. Here are a few highlights:

Step 1:  System Assessment

First ask:  Do you, or does anyone on your IT team, have the knowledge and expertise to perform the assessment yourself, or do you need to seek it from a third party?  Then, using internal or third-party expertise, assess your current environment and identify your virtualization goals.  Which of your servers, if any, are compatible with a virtualization operating system?  Do you have a storage environment adequate to support the virtual environment?

Step 2:  Staff Assessment

Successful small businesses point to virtualization training for implementation and support knowledge.  Small business IT managers can often find free or affordable training available through virtualization software vendors, such as free webinars or videos on vendor sites and YouTube, or simply from working side by side with a skilled technology partner during assessment and deployment.

Step 3:  Management Assessment

Work with your organization’s management to ensure they fully understand and support the investment.  The roadmap found that 96 percent of management who understand server virtualization benefits supports its adoption.  Highlight the many benefits virtualization offers, and they’ll have a hard time saying no. 

Step 4:  Execution

Once you’re ready to execute, keep in mind that you have to take it one step at a time.  Begin by finalizing candidates for virtualization, determining the virtualization platform, and determining the server and storage hardware platforms.  Be sure to visit the CDW roadmap for additional steps and lessons learned by other small businesses that have already implemented. 

Step 5:  Measuring Success

As small businesses that currently use virtualization can attest, the technology provides substantial, measurable benefits for their organizations.  Take the time to measure yours.  In addition to hard ROI (reduction of physical server count, IT energy and consumption costs, etc.) be sure to examine soft ROI, such as improved IT productivity, increased uptime, and increased business agility, adaptability and flexibility. 

Don’t Forget the Tips from the Pros 

In addition to the step-by-step process, the roadmap also offers advice and comments from small business IT professionals.  Here are a few to consider: 

  • On gaining management support, one member of Spiceworks, a social network for IT professionals, said, "We packaged our [proposal] with a virtual private network rollout and an updated disaster recovery plan. This gave management things they wanted for our organization and gave us the up-to-date tools we needed to do our job."
  • Of lessons learned during execution of server virtualization, a member of CDW's online corporate advisory board said, "I wish I had been more informed as to the variety of options out there. There are numerous options (including open source) that we were just not aware of."

Virtualization is an ongoing process, and it’s the first step toward full integration of cloud services into a business's IT architecture.  Planned and executed well, it can create great opportunities for your small businesses.

Jill Billhorn is vice president of small business at CDW.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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