The goal of server virtualization is fairly simple; get more value from hardware and stop the sprawl of servers in a company. Just a few years ago, IT firms would buy and dedicate a server to every application they needed. From email to database to printing, if a new piece of software was needed, the solution was a new server.
Virtualization brought about change to this tried and true process. Firms such VMWare, Microsoft and KVM delivered software that enabled one physical server to support several virtual servers. This software allowed for a server’s CPU, RAM and hard drives to be shared instead of dedicated to a single application. These firms all exploited the simple fact that physical servers do not normally run at 100% of capacity. In fact, many servers are built for peak loads that only occur 10% of the time, going underutilized the remaining 90% of the time.
There are many reasons this is important for small businesses. Companies will be able to reduce their IT spend as well as more fully utilize the hardware they purchase. A general rule of thumb for standard server workloads is that 20% of it goes to the virtualization software load and 10 – 25% goes to each virtual instance. Therefore, 3 – 4 servers that were all separate physical boxes will run virtually on one physical box. The numbers vary due to workload, but the concept is clear. You no longer have to spend $3,000 per server or $12,000 to support 4 servers, but closer to $6,000 to support the same workload.
Other benefits apply as well including lower cooling costs for the server room, decreased need for battery backup and increased uptime due to the ability to share the load among 2 or more physical servers. When a firm buys 2 or more servers and virtualizes their applications, the smart thing to do is share the application load amongst all the servers. When maintenance is necessary on one physical box, the company is able to live migrate all the workloads to the remaining servers and perform maintenance, even during the workday. Many firms also know that with virtualization, you can take a “snapshot” of every server with its full configuration and all its data. Not only is this great for data backups, but you can actually run this snapshot in a separate non-production virtual area and allow staff to run various scenario’s on real data without jeopardizing actual client data. Application upgrades, server software updates and more can be tested all while protecting and not actually touching your live data.
Server virtualization also saves money. For example, Microsoft’s version allows you to buy 1 physical copy of Windows and run 2 virtual instances from that single license. It is possible to save thousands of dollars by utilizing this benefit. If you need 4 virtual servers, you only have to buy 2 Windows licenses. Microsoft even has an enterprise version of Windows Server that allows unlimited virtual servers on one physical server.
Of course there are precautions to take with any technology, so speak to your IT provider about virtualization when they are proposing your next infrastructure upgrade. Odds are they are going to suggest it anyway, so you’ll be better informed to have a great conversation about not only saving money, but increasing uptime and performance.