Virtualisation in hosting – approach with caution

For most IT managers the need to do more with less has never been more pressing. But how can you build better IT systems with reduced funds? There is...

For most IT managers the need to do more with less has never been more pressing. But how can you build better IT systems with reduced funds? There is one approach that has become the hottest topic - virtualisation, writes Michael Hassan, product manager at NetBenefit.

Although virtualisation has been around for a number of years and has been adopted by large corporates, financial organisations and enterprises, it is now moving firmly into the web hosting space where users are anticipating the resulting benefits of improved operational efficiency, reduced hardware requirements, better use of technology - and ultimately lower costs.

From a business perspective, there are many reasons for deploying virtualisation but the most often quoted is server consolidation. Simply put, if you can virtualise a number of under-utilised systems on a single server, there are distinct savings in power, space, cooling, and administration.

Whether it's the cost of cooling thousands of physical servers, powering the boxes, or simply finding the real estate for them, a purely physical server infrastructure can be expensive for many end users. With space at a premium and limits on power, particularly in London, virtualisation can help companies meet the challenge of coping with ever-increasing computing resource requirements, within their current environment. This reduction in power consumption and the actual amount of physical space required also has strong environmental benefits.

With Microsoft promoting virtualisation, coupled with maturing technology, there is no doubt customer demand will drive virtualisation in the hosting space. Not only can it help businesses scale easily, it can help a company work more efficiently. If you can move the equivalent of many servers onto a large-capacity dedicated server, with less wasted space and a greener footprint , why would you choose anything else?

But a word of warning: even though virtualisation has a part to play it needs to be understood properly because it's not ideal for everyone. In some scenarios it might make more sense to keep some workload on physical hardware. Astute hosting providers remain unfazed by the hype and ensure their customers get the best solution for their needs - it might make a lot more sense to move them into a virtual world, especially those that are not making optimum use of their hardware but for others, a physical environment may well continue to be the best solution.

Security, as always, is a critical consideration. A diligent approach which considers the specific environment, including virtualisation technology, is required. Gartner is predicting that in 2009 as many as 60% of production [virtual machines] will be less secure than their physical counterparts, bullet-proof security is vital. The danger is that many will rush into adopting virtualisation without ensuring that robust security strategies are in place.

Virtualisation is clearly here to stay and there are equally many benefits in a hosted, outsourced environment as there are in the in-house, enterprise environment. However, keeping it in perspective as a tool in the box of a varied portfolio of solutions is the right approach. Virtualisation is not the panacea to resolve the need for reliable, high-performance and cost-effective managed hosting services.

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