The term "virtualization" is easy to dismiss as yet another in a long string of high-tech buzzwords. However, implementing virtualization in your small business can result in real-world savings, increased efficiency, and the ability to concentrate on what really matters- running your business. Once the domain of big companies with deep capital, the combination of inexpensive or free virtualization packages and the accessibility of powerful computing resources available today make virtualization a useful (and increasingly common) tool for small businesses.
What Is Virtualization? While virtual machines can be created on desktop computers, the most common implementation is known as "server virtualization".
Most applications - even on busy servers - are rarely used to their full capacity and potential. Virtualization is, at its most basic level, the process of splitting or partitioning a computer into different, distinct virtual computers. The computer is physically a single machine, but the virtual computers can interact with devices, users, software or networks as if it were a separate machine.
Virtualization can also work the other way as well. If you have a number of computers or servers, virtualization software can combine these individual machines into one single virtual computer.
How Can My Small Business Benefit from Virtualization? First and foremost, the less time or money you spend on managing individual machines, the more resources you can apply to your number one priority: managing the business. However, the benefits can be roughly grouped into a number of broad, overlapping categories:
1. It can be cheaper. The arithmetic is simple- if you have several virtual machines on one physical machine; you have already saved the expense of purchasing multiple servers. But the savings go further, as you can minimize the space devoted to your server room, recovering valuable office space and avoiding future renovations or retrofits. Similarly, having fewer physical machines to administer can result in decreased costs on software or hardware upgrades, and fewer hours spent on IT consultants.
1) It can help you go green. Savings on electricity costs would obviously fit into the above category, but there is a real environmental benefit to using fewer machines as well. Even today's efficient servers draw plenty of power, and reducing the number of machines you require results in a smaller electrical bill. Servers also generate plenty of heat, and the air conditioning costs to cool your server room grow exponentially with the addition of each new server.
2) It can save you time. Fewer physical machines means less time spent on physical maintenance. Similarly, a new virtual machine can be set up quickly and easily, while the deployment of a new physical server can be a lengthy and frustrating experience. When virtualization is used to pool many devices into a single virtual storage device, backups and recovery can be much quicker and easier.
How Much Will it Cost? Virtualization can cost as much - or as little - as you like. There are a plethora of free and open source virtualization implementations available to choose from, and a technically savvy user could deploy a virtualization environment with ease. Those who are a little less confident in their abilities will find all manner of paid software available that include help and support services. Some businesses even specialize in coming to your office and implementing the technology for you.
Final Thoughts Virtualization is, like any investment in IT, an important decision to make. The benefits of Virtualization can vary depending on the complexity of infrastructure of your business. Similarly to other IT investments, virtualization comes with its own set of challenges. However, a quick review of your current set-up is time well spent.
Consider how your current physical resources are being utilized - do you have a number of different servers doing different tasks, but also spending significant time sitting idle? If so, virtualization may be an option worth pursuing.
A quick web search will reveal a large number of virtualization packages, but the following list of free platforms can get your research started on the right foot:
- Oracle VM - Oracle's virtualization offering can run a number of Windows- and Linux-based server operating systems. âÂ¢ Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 - Microsoft's most recent offering runs on XP and Vista and allows for a basic but robust virtualization environment.
- VirtualBox 3.0 - Sun Microsystems latest runs on an impressive range of operating systems and hardware architectures, placing it amongst the most versatile of free packages.
- Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 - This is a powerful platform that runs directly on the underlying hardware (unlike some other options which require a "host" operating system). It does, however, require specific hardware, so ensure your equipment meets the specifications.
- VMware ESXi 4.0 - A bare bones - but fully functional - virtualization platform that uses the same technology as its larger commercial cousin, VMware's ESX Server.
Virtual Server support, IT support, IT services for small business virtualization