How to Get Started with Server Virtualization: 5 Top Tips

According to Jerry Melnick, CTO of Marathon Technologies, planning is the biggest part of moving to a virtual environment. Fortunately, while planning can be complex to carry out if you have a complex environment, there are only a few things you need to think about to get started.


As demand rises for IT managers and C-level executives to embrace virtualization, I thought it would be worthwhile to share my insights into adopting server virtualization. The five tips below are designed to help companies determine if server virtualization is right for them, and how they should prepare to ensure a successful initial implementation.

Tip #1: Make the business case for server virtualization

Before implementing server virtualization, IT executives should assess whether the technology will provide a reasonable return on investment. They should first take a look at how they are using servers today and ask themselves the following four questions:

1. Do we have common applications running on a number of different servers?

2. Do we have enough servers that could and should be consolidated? Is the number of applications increasing and the capacity required for the applications continuing to expand?

3. Do we expect the number of servers we have to buy each year to increase? If so, by how much?

4. Is our business planning to undertake other large-scale technology implementations, and, if so, how will this fit with a possible virtualization development?

In short, the IT department has to make a strong business case and justify the virtualization investment to ensure executive management support. To help conduct a quick assessment, ROI calculators are available from a number of vendors.

Tip #2: Consider the license and support implications

IT managers need to investigate what, if any, impact virtualization will have on their application licenses and support. Depending on the application, the original licensing terms and conditions may no longer apply after the applications have been migrated to the virtualized environment. In addition, it may be that the providers of some of the software applications do not support virtualization systems, and are unwilling to offer technical support for the applications after the migration to a virtualized environment.

Tip #3: Afford to spend the time to plan

As any IT professional knows, implementing a new system requires dedicated resources, budget and time. Industry experts have estimated that the planning stage constitutes 90 percent of a virtualization implementation project. The actual migration is relatively simple to undertake, provided that the implementation has been well-planned. Any system information to be migrated should be collated and backed up-up to six months before the start of the migration.

IT managers should remember to assess how much hardware each virtual machine needs in order to operate efficiently. They also need to ensure that the number of virtual environments residing in a single hardware does not sprawl out of control. If it does, this could have serious consequences on the stability of the environment and application availability. A thorough implementation plan will help businesses minimize any hiccups that might arise.

Tip #4: Assess levels of application availability and risk to business continuity

Despite the many benefits of virtualization, businesses are beginning to realize that there are risks associated with the technology. While virtualization is useful for protecting applications from planned downtime, protecting virtual environments from unplanned downtime is a different matter. Today, the cost of just a few minutes of unplanned downtime can be hugely detrimental and, with virtual environments, the risk is greater because server consolidation often results in a single point of failure for multiple applications. Businesses should therefore consider a solution that combines virtualization technology with the high-availability protection necessary to keep the business going through disruptions.

Tip #5: Demonstrate that virtualization won't have a negative impact on end users

After the implementation, it is critical to demonstrate to executive management that virtualization can be accomplished without hindering application performance and without diminishing service to end users. IT managers should closely monitor the performance of initial deployments and, if necessary, modify hardware and networking configurations to ensure that the virtual environment is completely transparent to users.

Emerging virtualization technologies are opening doors by removing existing barriers of entry such as cost and complexity. More and more businesses of different sizes are starting to reap the benefits of server virtualization. But before embarking on a virtualization project, organizations should assess their needs carefully, choose the right technology, make sure the implementation doesn't affect end-user performance and start small.

/images/stories/heads/knowledge_center/melnick_jerry70x70.jpg Jerry Melnick is CTO at Marathon Technologies, the leading provider of automated, fault tolerant-class availability solutions for virtual and physical environments. He can be reached at