Tips for SMBs getting started with server virtualization

Marathon Technologies – The tips below are designed to help small companies determine if server virtualization is right for them and how to prepare to ensure a successful initial implementation.

Tip 1: Make the business case for server virtualization

Before implementing server virtualization, SMBs must assess whether the technology will provide a reasonable return on investment. They should first look at how they use servers today and ask themselves:

  • Do they have common applications running on a number of different servers?
  • Do they 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?
  • Do they expect the number of servers they have to buy each year to increase? If so, by how much?
  • Is the business planning to undertake other large-scale technology implementations, and if so, how will this fit with a possible virtualization development?
  • There are various ROI calculators available online to help conduct a quick assessment or start with VMware's ROI calculator.

Tip 2: Consider the license and support implications

SMBs must 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 small business owner knows, implementing a new system requires dedicated resources, budget and time. Industry experts have estimated that the planning stage constitutes 90% 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. SMBs must remember to assess how much hardware each virtual machine needs in order to operate efficiently. They also must ensure that the number of virtual environments residing in a single hardware does not sprawl out of control - 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, small 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 impact end users

After implementation, it is critical to demonstrate that virtualization can be accomplished without hindering applications performance and without diminishing service to end users. SMBs should monitor the performance of initial deployments closely, and if necessary, modify hardware and networking configurations to ensure that the virtual environment is completely transparent to end-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 must assess needs carefully, choose the right technology, make sure the implementation doesn't impact end user performance - and start small.

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