Server Virtualization Guide for Small Business

By Drew Robb | Posted October 12, 2011

Server virtualization is one of the most popular tech trends going today, and it seems as though everybody is jumping on the small business virtualization bandwagon. But does virtualization make sense for your small business?

In this small business guide to virtualization, we'll explain what virtualization is, the associated benefits and drawbacks, whether it makes financial sense, and which small businesses should go for it (or give it a pass). Finally, we'll look at how to go about implementing it.

What is Server Virtualization? 

Server virtualization is really all about gaining more from what you have. It allows companies to make one server act as five, ten or even twenty virtual servers. The need to do so has become more apparent as processors have become far more powerful in recent years.

“The increase in the power and memory capacity of today’s servers means they are often underutilized, and have excess capacity,” said Tony Parkinson, Dell's vice president of consumer, SMB enterprise solutions.


Historically, businesses used to add a new server for each new application. One server acted as a mail server, another as a central repository for office files, another for the customer database and so on. Technology from the likes of Microsoft and VMware, known as a hypervisor, enables a single server to be sub-divided to run multiple instances of operating systems and applications, which lets small business use the full power of that server. 

A hypervisor, then, is a computer program that allows multiple operating systems to share a single piece of hardware known as a host. This host, is the home of multiple virtual servers -- also known as guests, virtual machines or VMs.

A good analogy is the hard drive on a PC. Although there is only one actual drive, it can be split into several volumes, which are really virtual hard drives.

“A typical server may use 10-20 percent of its computing power and 20-30 percent of memory at any given time, the rest ends up being wasted,” said Parkinson. “Instead of utilizing 10-20 percent of your resources, you now have 65-75 percent of your resources working to make your company’s IT resources more productive and efficient.”  

The Benefits of Server Virtualization

Small businesses benefit from server virtualization by not having to buy more servers. Another plus is consolidating many physical servers onto one. This means that some small businesses can dispense with several of their existing machines and load everything onto one server -- or move from 20 physical servers down to a few. This means less time spent on maintenance and less money spent on powering multiple servers.

According to a recent survey by CDW, 25 percent of small businesses have virtualized at least some of their servers. Among small businesses that have not yet implemented server virtualization, 73 percent report they are investigating or planning to deploy the technology.

“Two-thirds of small businesses that have virtualized their server environments say doing so has significantly increased the return on investment of their IT -- but virtualization also requires new skills and knowledge to manage effectively,” said Jill Billhorn, CDW vice president of small business sales. 

“Small businesses that have virtualized say that the top drivers for their decision to do so were replacement of aging hardware [43 percent], server consolidation [36 percent], improved backup and disaster recovery [35 percent], greater efficiency of IT infrastructure [27 percent] and reduced IT operating costs [23 percent],” said Billhorn.

Simpleview Inc., is an 85-employee firm that provides software and Web-based services for marketing organizations operating in the tourism business. What drove the company towards virtualization?

“We had several clients that were requesting that their services be isolated from the others and this was going to push our need for even more space, power and cooling,” said Sean Smith, director of network operations at Simpleview. “So we really were primed for the opportunity of virtualization.”

The company has 15 primary servers and it turned them into 60 virtual servers. Smith cites benefits such as ease of server deployment, the capability to upgrade or downgrade server components -- such as memory, hard drives and processing power -- at will and needing less floor space.



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