Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Virtualization for the Small Business, Part II: Benefits

In my last post, I provided a basic introduction to server virtualization, and suggested that it could have an impressive impact on the bottom line for small businesses. As was also alluded to in that piece, this post will cover the benefits which drive that bottom-line impact.

Let's have a quick review. Server virtualization allows multiple logical servers to exist on one powerful physical server. This allows much more efficient use of resources, as while multiple servers are often used to avoid compatibility issues or to host services on different operating systems, they rarely fully use physical server resources. Virtualization allows each server to act as if it were on a separate physical server, while being contained in a powerful virtualization server that can provide resources to each logical server as needed.

The benefits of this are:

  • Cost savings
  • Flexibility
  • Fast, simple disaster recovery

Let’s go over these in a bit more detail...

Cost Savings

Typically, "server class" hardware is quite expensive to acquire. As I said before, that hardware is rarely fully used by the services running on top of it. Server virtualization allows multiple servers, with their own operating system and services, to share powerful "server class" hardware. Aside from simple hardware costs, virtualization saves a great deal of power and maintenance time costs. Server power supplies can easily range into the 500-1000 watt territory, so reducing that load can provide substantial energy savings. Additionally, while each logical server will still require software and OS administration, you only have to maintain hardware on your virtualization server.


As a consultant that advises small and medium size companies on new technologies that can improve their business, the flexibility that virtualization brings is a very exciting benefit personally. Want to trial that new collaboration system but don't want to modify a production server? While in a pre-virtualization world this would require purchasing or borrowing a test computer, a business with server virtualization can add a logical server to a virtualization host in seconds, and be testing soon after. This extends to modifications of existing logical servers, as they can be mirrored and test-upgraded before an upgrade is put into production. As I said before, this dynamic is a major boon for my customers, providing quick and inexpensive flexibility for trying new things.

Fast, Simple Disaster Recovery

For many business owners, this is the key benefit to server virtualization. Many of us have been through the nightmare of a server hardware crash. Often, especially in the small business environment, one of the major road blocks to restoring a production environment is the operating systems' dependence on specific hardware drivers. This leads to a complicated restore procedure: Bring the operating system back clean, then restoring data and applications, a lengthy process. In a virtualized environment, each logical server simply sees "standard" hardware that any virtualization server can provide. Thus, in the event of a virtualization server hardware malfunction, the logical servers can be moved to a new virtualization server without any special restore process. The result: A massive reduction in downtime.

I hope that's a useful breakdown of some of the primary benefits server virtualization can bring a small business. My next post, the final one of this series, will go over a few of the most popular server virtualization platforms which meet the budgetary and operational needs of the small business.

Until next time!

Michael O'Brien is a partner at Praece Strategic Technology Consulting, helping small and medium businesses align technology plans with business goals.

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