How to Implement Server Virtualization

 
 
By Chris Barclay  |  Posted 2008-12-23
 
 
 

How to Implement Server Virtualization


So many small and medium-size enterprises share the belief that server virtualization is meant for larger organizations. While the scale of the SME environment may pale to that of a large organization (you may be looking at 10 or 20 servers versus hundreds or thousands of servers), the value of server virtualization is not diminished. Server virtualization can play just as important a role in stemming IT costs, both capital and operational, for the SME as it can for larger organizations.

Server virtualization, on any scale, can enable organizations to improve server utilization, reduce hardware and management costs, reduce IT footprint, lower power and cooling consumption, and improve overall DR (disaster recovery) and business continuity. It is, or should be, a driver of IT efficiency. Of course, the level of efficiency an organization (big or small) will see depends on a number of variables-most notably, the feature set, ease of use and scalability of the server virtualization technology itself, as well as other network and storage considerations.

Here is a guide for SMEs that are curious about server virtualization. We will look at what types of functions SMEs are typically looking for and some important things to consider when looking at server virtualization.

Answering Some FAQs

SMEs need advanced functionality, such as live migration of virtual machines, automatic failover and dynamic load balancing, as part of their server virtualization technology. They also need solutions that will scale to meet future IT requirements as their environments grow. In fact, more than half of all SMEs are deploying server virtualization to implement high availability and DR, not just consolidation. SMEs are also interested in business continuity and DR, which are very important motivators for adopting server virtualization.

The problem is, while SMEs and larger organizations may find similar value in server virtualization technologies, their day-to-day realities and resources (people and dollars) are vastly different-often 180 degrees different. This lack of IT staff and budget dollars has significant implications for the SME and, ultimately, can determine if server virtualization is adopted and which product is deployed.

There's no question that price, ease of use and packaging are hugely important to the SME, but they don't have to come at the expense of product functionality. Historically, SMEs were put in the unenviable position of having to trade feature/functionality for price or, if feature set was deemed more important than price, ease of use was often sacrificed. 

With server virtualization, price, ease of use (such as packaging and deployment) and feature/functionality are no longer mutually exclusive. To get one, they don't have to sacrifice the other. The operative words here being "don't have to." There are still key differences between server virtualization technologies or platforms, and these differences still center around ease of use, price and feature set. As with any IT technology, organizations need to do their homework before investing. The following section is designed to help guide SMEs through that process by building a "scorecard" for each product.

Five Important Considerations


Five Important Considerations

1. Price

Users need to remember that while price is important, it is only one factor. Users also need to take special care to ensure that comparisons are done on an apples-to-apples basis. What at first glance may seem competitive may not be on closer examination.

Key questions to ask include: How is the technology priced, on a per-socket basis? What features come standard with this pricing? If not, what is the additional pricing of these options? Is management included? Services? How they are priced? Organizations should list these costs for each product, as well as for various configurations (for example, four sockets or eight sockets).

2. Feature set

Users should determine which functionality they need (for example, virtual machine management migration, load balancing, recovery, snapshot support, backup or patch management), and then compare/contrast this list to product feature sets. Key questions to ask include: Is there a virtualization manager? Virtual machine migration? Built-in capabilities to reduce power and cooling beyond server consolidation?

It's also important for organizations to note which features come standard (that is, are included in basic pricing) and which ones are optional. If optional, users should also calculate the cost of adding the capability. Users should also note any differences in "like" features. For example, is migration an automated process or is it manual? How are snapshots enabled? How is backup and recovery done? 

3. Ease of use

How easy is the product to deploy, manage and maintain? Is installation time calculated in hours or minutes? What obstacles or challenges can users expect? Is the product and its various features field-proven? How are features packaged (that is, all-in-one or a la carte)? Does the product work with SAN (storage area network) storage? Organizations should ask vendors for references and use cases similar to their environments. Keep in mind that ongoing administrative costs can often far exceed purchase costs.

4. Virtual infrastructure management

Does the product have a virtual infrastructure management platform or virtualization manager? A true virtualization manager allows the virtual infrastructure to support multiuser environments, a variety of physical infrastructures, and integration with third-party applications-including higher-level management applications. A virtualization manager is integral to a server virtualization technology's serviceability, reliability and scalability capabilities, responsible for synchronizing the workflow of these tasks. In that sense, it is the "engine" that keeps the "virtual infrastructure" churning.

5. Integration

What operating systems does the product support? What storage? Which hypervisors? Does it have a virtualization manager? What is the road map for this platform? What does the ISV and independent hardware vendor (IHV) ecosystem look like? More specifically, who are the vendors' ecosystem partners? For backup? For storage?

Conclusion

The value of server virtualization is well-known across the enterprise, and is being echoed in smaller environments. SMEs need to pay particular attention to feature, packaging/pricing and deployment differences among technologies. A quick "fact check" will go a long way in ensuring organizations get the best possible solution at the right price for their particular environment.

 

Chris Barclay is the director of product management at Virtual Iron. Chris has a range of technical accomplishments, including a patent for a method of speech recognition over the network. His more recent efforts involve successfully building and launching enterprise software products. He can be reached at his blog at http://blog.virtualiron.com/Virtual-Infrastructure/ or at cbarclay@virtualiron.com.

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