Server virtualization has been with us in Windows computing for about 10 years. During that time, many small businesses have embraced the technology to get more bang for their server buck and also to improve storage efficiency. In some cases the value proposition that server virtualization offers small business owners is a no-brainer. But for other SMBs, it might not be advisable.
According to a recent survey by CDW, 25 percent of small businesses use server virtualization today. Those businesses that employ server virtualization have done so on an average of 33 percent of their servers. Of those that haven’t gone virtual yet, 73 percent say they are investigating or planning to implement the technology.
But is it the right thing to do?
1. When to Skip Server Virtualization
Some small businesses don’t have an IT person on the payroll, or if they do, that person deals with everyday tasks such as security, desktop management and maintaining the servers. Such personnel are often ill-equipped to deal with the technological sophistication that virtualization demands.
Therefore, if you don’t have competent, available small business IT resources, aren’t willing to hire someone in-house or don’t have the budget to outsource the activity, you should pass on virtualization. It will create more headaches than it solves.
“Most SMBs with less than 100 personnel will not even consider virtualization, since they will not have an appropriate technical resource,” said Bill Roth, vice president of marketing at Nexenta. “Core issues, like simply having a unified email system, often take up IT time for small businesses.”
2. Virtualize if IT is Part of your Core Competence
However, there are plenty of smaller companies where technology is a core competence. They bring value to their respective fields by being on the leading edge. They typically have lots of servers, require abundant storage and have a payroll replete with skilled IT veterans. In such a firm, virtualization is sure to add value.
“If the technical skills exist, using virtualization for core infrastructures is a no-brainer,” said Roth. “Virtualization is in broad use in these companies as a way to cut down on capital expense related to technology development.”
3. Busy Servers or Not So Much?
Greg Schulz, an analyst with StorageIO Group, said that if you currently have several servers taking up floor, rack, shelf or counter space that are not very busy, yet dedicated to particular applications, they may be ripe for virtualization. Your small business servers may be ripe for virtualization if:
- They're taking up floor, rack, shelf, or counter space
- They're dedicated to particular applications
- They aren’t very busy
And if your server equipment is aging, virtualization combined with an upgrade to more modern servers might result in significant server consolidation, e.g, far fewer servers, lower power and cooling bills, and a lot of freed-up floor space.
“Keep in mind that server virtualization can reduce the number of physical servers that you need,” said Schulz.
4. Sensitive Applications
It is important to note that not all applications do well in virtual environments. Some critical or sensitive applications require a lot of processor or memory resources, and you don’t want them ever sharing those resources with other virtual servers. A standalone, specialized server for security is one example.
“I often hear about applications such as database or other performance-sensitive ones not being able to be virtualized,” said Schulz.
Find out about your applications performance needs before virtualizing them. And test in advance in any case.