Are You Ready for Virtualization?

Updated: April 30, 2009

The year 2008 may be the year that virtualization reaches medium-sized companies (100 to 1,000 employees), with a host of new product offerings and packages geared for price-conscious midrange IT managers . If you have been sitting on the sideline of the virtualization game, now is a good time to consider how your company can benefit from virtualization.

What Is It?

Virtualization is the separation of software from hardware so that multiple operating systems and applications can run on the same physical platform. A thin layer of software known as a VMM (virtual machine monitor) mediates between hardware and other software , allocating hardware resources to each program's needs. The result is being able to run multiple applications, such as email , the Web and FTP, on one physical server. This makes the best use of server resources, which saves money on hardware, power and cooling costs.

Virtualization also allows an IT manager to store a virtual machine as an image file, so it can be deployed easily for disaster recovery . It also makes server management easier and speeds up response times to requests for new servers.

Desktop machines can be virtualized and run on servers, giving end users the look and feel they expect from their PCs while keeping system administrators in control of configurations. Patches and updates are much easier to make with virtualized-desktop machines, since they can be applied at a central location. As an added bonus, end users can access their personalized-desktop virtual machines from anywhere in the organization.

Where Virtualization Is Headed

Virtualization has reached critical momentum. Enterprise Strategy Group Inc . reported in a recent survey that the 70 percent of IT managers who plan to implement server virtualization will do so during the next year.

There is plenty of opportunity for growth in the midrange. Info-Tech Research Group surveyed 1,500 IT shops and found that only 55 percent of companies with 100 to 500 employees have adopted or plan to adopt virtualization. Among companies with fewer than 100 employees, the figure drops to 25 percent.

But the survey found that midrange companies that have adopted virtualization tend to go all the way. They are able to manage resources across all servers, taking maximum advantage of virtualization's flexibility and manageability. In one example, the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General was able to consolidate 130 stand-alone servers into just 40 blade servers , and add a NetApp FAS 3050 storage-area network.

The Major Players

VMware Inc . has emerged as the biggest player in the virtualization space thus far. But that could change with the release of Microsoft Windows Server 2008, which has Hyper-V virtualization technology included at a low price. The Hyper-V version of Server 2008 costs only $28 more than its more basic counterpart. However, Hyper-V is only in beta release at this time. Microsoft Corp . plans to release a production version in about six months. Citrix Systems Inc ., which recently bought virtualization-software maker XenSource, is also pushing hard for midrange business.

Experts expect virtualization-software vendors to create new programs targeting price-conscious midrange customers in 2008, and to ease migration to virtualization by more closely integrating conversion tools.

Hardware makers, including Intel Corp . and AMD Inc ., are continuing to make progress in reducing the performance penalty that certain workloads suffer under virtualization. These include applications with heavy I/O requirements .

Blade-server vendors such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard Development Company L.P. are expected to release new programs targeting midrange companies with lower prices and simplified deployment. Blades have long been considered an enterprise-class solution, but now vendors are reaching deeper to tap the large midrange market. Expect to see some blade servers with virtualization software bundled into them.

Finding What Works for You

To determine whether your company is a candidate for server consolidation, you will need to run benchmark applications to reveal the utilization rates of your current servers and their associated devices. A vendor or system integrator can help you with the benchmarks and figure out what can be consolidated. Some applications, like 3D modeling , will still need their own dedicated servers. Allowing room for future growth is also critical. You may need to consider investing in new blade-server technology that can expand as your business grows.

Virtualization makes sense for midrange companies that have a growing demand for server resources. By consolidating servers onto underused machines, firms can postpone buying new hardware. The ability to quickly carve out space on a physical machine for a new server means faster deployment times and greater end-user satisfaction. Agility, flexibility and manageability all argue in favor of taking the plunge into virtualization.

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