13 Jul 2012

Virtualisation – have you gone far enough?

Virtualisation has long since established itself as a powerful tool. According to Forrester research, 52% of servers are now virtual. By 2014, that number will rise to 75%, making virtualisation the norm. But it’s also the case that many businesses aren’t getting as much from virtualisation as they could. I’ll discuss why in a moment but, for those who’d like a primer, here’s a reminder of what virtualisation is.

More with less

As commonly explained, virtualisation allows you to make efficient use of your computing hardware by hosting several virtual servers on the one physical machine. The two most popular solutions are VMware and Microsoft’s Hyper-V. Benefits include: Efficiency If you run your own servers or infrastructure, virtualisation allows you to consolidate. I’ve seen businesses use virtualisation to reduce 30 servers to five, for example. This saves not only on hardware costs but running costs as well. VMware says that virtualisation can reduce power costs by up to 80%. Agility Virtualisation also makes your infrastructure more manageable. When machines are virtual, you can speed up your deployments, create standard images and configurations and generally improve the speed with which your infrastructure can respond to business needs. Reliability Virtualisation makes it easier to avoid failures and downtime. If your Exchange server is virtual, for example, you can go from backing up mailboxes to backing up the entire machine. If there’s a failure, you can quickly restore service by restoring the machine from the backup, rather than waiting to diagnose and fix the problem. The ability to copy and restore whole servers is also enabling better disaster recovery regimes, including ones that backup your systems to the cloud (something that Gartner predicts 30% of mid-sized businesses will adopt within two years). Indeed, 94% of CIOs agree that virtualisation is transforming their data protection efforts, according to Vanson Bourne research.

Are you getting it right?

All these benefits make virtualisation understandably popular yet, as a Forrester study points out, some businesses still end up “leaving money on the table.” The reason Forrester gives for this is that virtualisation isn’t yet fully trusted, even though it should be. While virtualisation has only a negligible effect on performance, Forrester says there is still a view in some quarters that virtualisation should be avoided for performance-intensive applications. This erroneous outlook prevents some businesses from benefitting from virtualisation in more places – thus the notion that they’re leaving money on the table. There may be other reasons too, that your business isn’t as virtual as it could be. Some legacy applications, for example, don’t handle virtual environments well (or at all). If an application is holding you back, it’s definitely past time to remove it from the business roster.

Summing up

The more virtualised your computing infrastructure, the more cost efficient it will be, the easier it will be to manage, and the better it will respond to your needs. It can also be a question of growth. If your processes rely on virtualisation, there are far fewer bottlenecks to overcome should you need to quickly expand. Dave Stevens is MD, Brennan IT. (This blog post was first published on the SmartCompany website on July 11 2012)
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