In this Q&A with disaster recovery software vendor Neverfail, Andrew Barnes, Senior Vice President for Corporate Development, highlights key risks of migrating to a virtual environment and how to avoid them.
Where should you start when migrating physical servers to virtual?
Andrew Barnes: The most important thing is to avoid downtime of your critical applications, so that's where you should start. You should make sure that you fully understand the risks of moving from physical to virtual in terms of how it will affect your application. It may have a different affect if you have an internal portal, for example, so you need to be aware of this and how you will fix it. Some downtime may be necessary for migration, but only when you want it. You don't want downtime at the wrong time – prime time.
Be clear on what affects the project may have on your users – the aim is for them not to be aware that anything is going on at all. Just because you have a crisis, doesn't mean your users have to know.
TIP: Plan ahead and know when your downtime will occur, if downtime is absolutely necessary. If you plan ahead this can be avoided for your critical applications.
What can be put in place as a safety net, in case the project goes wrong?
Andrew Barnes: Plan for the worst. Make sure there is something in place in case the virtual environment fails and you need to revert back to the old physical infrastructure. This way the virtual environment is not fixed whilst under pressure and the business it not affected. Resolve any problems in an environment you know already works and then move back to your new one. With Neverfail's software, a copy of your environment is created on the virtual server and then migrates all the applications, which also has a path back to its original environment.
Can you give an example of companies that are addressing their critical applications before making the move to virtualisation?
Andrew Barnes: Many companies cannot afford any downtime of their critical applications – businesses that run 24/7 do not have a free window to shut every down. These companies have to make the shift to virtual without causing downtime. Sports marketing agency FastTrack, for example, bases a lot of its business on using Blackberries. Events are organised 24/7, globally, amongst employees and clients via email, so they cannot afford their email system to go down whilst the IT department decides to migrate its servers.
Another example is in legal firms. In this sector time is money and access is needed to internal portals that hold information on court cases and reference materials.
Neverfail also works with 911 companies and call centres in the United States. These companies need their systems running round the clock so when someone calls the emergency services the necessary units can be contacted and dispatched.
What about the importance of weighing up IT risk Vs business risk?
Andrew Barnes: The benefits of virtualisation and server consolidation are very well document by now and are pretty much a no-brainer. The important thing for companies, now, is to research what kind of affects migrating critical applications to a virtual environment will have on the business – how much will it cost in business downtime if it all goes wrong? Is that risk in costs worth taking?
The savings made consolidating five physical servers to one virtual are clear, but if that migration is done incorrectly the downtime in business, for example 24 hours without your critical applications, could cost you more than the money you saved on the initial server consolidation. This need to be weighed up before anything is attempted.
Kayleigh Bateman is the Site Editor of SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.uk