There is a new wave in virtualization – the technology that was around for the last 40 years and confined to mainframes initially has now become mainstream with the coming of datacenters and cloud computing. All of this is with good reason. There are major benefits of virtualization for businesses in both IT and non IT sectors. Some of these are discussed in succeeding paragraphs.
The advantages can be seen to be in three broad heads:
One positive reason for going in for virtualization is the improvement in the server utilization factor. Businesses that use traditional servers typically use only 10% of the computing capability of a server. The rest idles to cater to spikes in load or just goes waste. No business would ever allow that to happen for its employees. Server virtualization allows the business to run several virtual servers on a physical server and push up the utilization ratio to nearly 70% – 80% which is considered a healthy value. The higher utilization also reduces the carbon footprint of the data center.
Power and utility companies reward their customers for improving their utilization ratios. California’s Pacific Gas and Electric developed a rebate program that offered rebates of $150 to $300 per physical server that was virtualized with a limit of 50% of the total project cost. This is a huge addition to the bottom line of any business. Many other utility companies are now offering this program. However, do note that the utility company has to be informed before you start the virtualization program so that the total consumption before and after can be calculated.
Besides the reduction in the carbon footprint and utility bills, there is a great savings associated with the servers you do not have to buy anymore. Add to this the reduction in costs associated with networking, cooling, rack space and so on and companies get the advantage of a downward spiral in costs.
A major business advantage that is seldom properly understood is the improvement in business continuity and disaster recovery capability. This is not an IT benefit but it is a business benefit. A virtualized environment and its data can be re-created very rapidly in a different location if back up procedures have been followed correctly.
Closely associated with this is the capability to respond rapidly to changing demand. Additional servers and other services can be created rapidly to meet increasing demand. In one well publicized case where provisioning physical servers used to take 45 days from the time the user demand was approved, the time was reduced to only 20 minutes.
There are many advantages from an IT perspective as well.
The first of these is the removal of any dependency on physical hardware. The virtual server (or any other virtual machine) you create on one physical server can be replicated to any other server. Therefore you are no longer bound to a specific machine. This capability has very useful side effects. If you need to shut down a server for some maintenance work, you need not do this at some unearthly hour. The service can be shifted to any other server and the maintenance carried out at any time.
Disaster recovery has become a more practical proposition with virtualization. If this is planned well and presence is ensured in data centers in geographically different locations, there can be very little possibility of a total business shutdown.
Virtualization allows separation of services which makes the entire system more stable. Take the example of a small company; previously it would have had several services such as domain server, file server and a database server running on the same machine. This makes the services susceptible to disruption and increases possibilities of security breaches. However, with virtualization, you can run each of these services in its individual virtual server with parameters that are appropriate for that service. This ensures that there is no interference between services, no unnecessary ports are open and the service is far more secure.
Finally some numbers …
To summarize, there are major advantages of virtualization and companies are now realizing gains on business, IT and financial fronts. It has been assessed that nearly every business will use virtualization in some form or the other in the next few years.
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