Virtualisation is a technology that has gone from an abstract concept to a real option for delivering efficiency benefits to businesses of all sizes. Now that it's here and widely adopted, the next step is to make sure we're doing it right. Any efficiency and cost saving technology can have limited effects if not implemented and managed properly. For some businesses, this may actually mean outsourcing server virtualisation to a third-party provider, and choosing a server service pack, that is set up to manage the process at a much lower cost than the business itself could ever achieve.
Businesses today have the option to outsource all or part of their virtual server environment to a third party
Dominic Monkhouse, UK Managing Director of PEER 1,
The key is to understand the benefits of the technology, align it to your business needs, and decide on the delivery and management model that is going to deliver the bestreturn on investment (ROI).
What is server virtualisation?
Virtualisation works by inserting a thin layer ofsoftware directly on the computer hardware or on a host operating system. This contains the virtual machine monitor, which allocates hardware resources dynamically and transparently. Multiple operating systems run concurrently on a single physical computer and share hardware resources. By encapsulating an entire machine, including CPU, memory, operating system and network devices, a virtual machine is completely compatible with all standard x86 operating systems, applications, and device drivers. You can safely run several operating systems and applications at the same time on a single computer, with each having access to the resources it needs when it needs them.
What are the benefits of server virtualisation?
Server virtualisation benefits include: Consolidating to fewer physical machines defers future spending on servers or data centre space; yielding lower power and cooling costs; allowing the business faster time-to-market for products, services and projects; and empowering organisations with greater flexibility and availability of information.
Do it yourself vs. Outsourcing server service pack
If your business is big enough to have a data centre (even it is a few servers in a back room), then you would be crazy not to virtualise. As the business and data load grows, this will allow you to get the most out of your hardware investment and offset the need to purchase more servers.
The trouble with this model, however, is that you have to put up the capital for not only purchasing the servers but maintaining, updating, powering and cooling them. The cost of managing a data centre is astronomical, even in a virtualised environment. The cost for a small and medium enterprise (SME) to purchase, run and maintain even a single server can be just as expensive, relative to the size of the business.
For an SME to move to server virtualisation, the first cost the business will encounter is training its IT staff. This is not cheap, and as soon as there is a change in personnel, it becomes virtually impossible to get the right support for the servers. More often than not, they're not set up in a standard or documented way. This means a reduction in reliability and the ability torecover from failure, rather than the improvement the business was promised by the move. To get proper support for the servers, they will need to be completely rebuilt.
Businesses today have the option to outsource all or part of their virtual server environment to a third party. This third party, along with already investing in the hardware, is set up to offer a server service pack at a lower price and has a trained expert team to manage maintenance and upgrades. There are a few different options here:
1. Full managed or dedicated hosting
In this scenario, an entire virtual server(s) can be leased in the provider's data centre. These servers are not shared with anyone else and are under the complete control of the business, with data and applications pushed to the user as a service and backed up in the data centre. Servers can be managed by either the provider's IT team or by your own internal IT support.
With colocation, the business leases a cabinet in a hosting provider's data centre to house its own physical server. Redundant high-speed connectivity is now commonplace, making it possible to pick up servers, place them somewhere else and still experience a fast and reliable connection. The server is then in a highly secure location offsite and benefits from the provider's redundant power supply and increased availability.
3. Virtual backup
Businesses can also take a piecemeal approach by keeping virtual servers on-site but backed up off-site in a hosted data centre. A snapshot of the virtual servers is taken at regular intervals, which can be pushed to the primary site after a data loss to restore servers in a matter of minutes.
This is a much more secure and reliable process than tape backup, as an average of one in eight tapes fail. As businesses look to replace their hardware, they should consider virtual backup as a more reliable option and have it hosted off-site. Not only does this mean the service provider will back up your backup for better disaster recovery and higher availability, but because data and applications are pushed to you over a virtual private network (VPN), you can access them from anywhere and work remotely.
Consider the long term investment
Server virtualisation technology, like any technology, will deliver the most benefit when set up and delivered in the right way. Businesses need to consider the available outsourcing options and be discerning about what type of investment is going to deliver the best return. The delivery ofInfrastructure as a Service is a trend that will only become more prevalent as businesses move away from hardware investment and look to convert CAPEX to OPEX. Before launching a project to virtualise servers, it would be wise to consider the long term cost of maintaining that infrastructure and assess whether or not an outsourced server service pack is a better option.
Dominic Monkhouse is the UK Managing Director of hosting provider PEER 1 and a Contributor to SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.uk.