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February 12, 2010 • Vol.32 Issue 4
Page(s) 41 in print issue

Virtualization: Tips For Smaller Deployments
Manage Resources To Achieve Maximum Results

Key Points

• Smaller virtualization deployments can benefit from free planning and virtualization software, in addition to solutions designed specifically for SME environments.

• Compared to larger enterprises, SMEs have limited IT resources. To reduce adoption barriers and focus on core competencies, SMEs should consider working with certified partners for planning and even ongoing management.

• Business continuity is one of the biggest benefits of virtualization in the SME environment.

There’s been a lot of attention focused on virtualization in large enterprises. With their sizeable data centers and budgets, large enterprises seem to have the most to gain from virtualization. But SMEs experience IT challenges similar to large enterprises.

Some vendors recognize the virtualization opportunities within SMEs and offer solutions targeted to their operations. And many SMEs recognize the benefits of consolidating servers and virtualizing other functions. An IDG Research Services survey in 2008 found that 39% of SMEs had invested in server virtualization, 26% in desktop virtualization, and 18% in storage virtualization.

“With regards to server virtualization, we’ve seen significant adoption in the SME market,” says Joe Andrews, VMware group manager for product marketing. “We are also seeing growth in hosted virtual desktops. This has been driven by the need to provide end users and corporate IT groups with flexible access to desktops 24/7 and to also reduce IT management costs, including the help desk function of managing desktops and improving security and compliance.”

Although SMEs may have needs similar to large enterprises, the IT and business environment is different. Managing limited resources is especially important for smaller enterprises because dedicated IT staff is limited. Following are tips that can help you maximize the effectiveness of your virtualization deployment.

Identify goals, objectives, and resources. If you’re getting started with a virtualization project, determine the business goals it will help to accomplish. Possibilities include consolidating servers and applications, reducing hardware costs, providing faster and more dynamic provisioning, accommodating future expansion, and improving disaster recovery. Many vendors offer free tools that can help you identify the potential return on investment or simplify planning. The MAP (Microsoft Assessment and Planning) Toolkit, for example, assesses your current IT infrastructure and helps you identify underutilized resources and the hardware specifications needed to consolidate your servers.

Try free virtualization software and adopt a phased approach. Some vendors offer free server virtualization products. “This is an easy, low-cost, zero-risk way to get started,” says Andrews. “You can add management capabilities and additional features, such as the business continuity capabilities, over time.” Taking a phased approach lets you get familiar with the environment before moving to larger projects and mission-critical apps.

Meet with users and stakeholders. During the planning process, be sure to involve the key end users and business stakeholders to identify current and future workloads, application needs, and concerns. Even in smaller enterprises, discussing virtualization plans reduces end-user anxiety about the coming changes.

Call in a certified partner to help. As you plan for virtualization, consider working with an experienced partner, especially when preparing for a larger deployment. “Many SMEs are scared to jump into virtualization because they cite lack of knowledge as a barrier,” says Andrews.

Examine costs and consider blade solutions. Ideally, you can use existing hardware for your virtualization environment. If you are evaluating new equipment, compare the consolidation ratio (for example, eight virtual servers to one physical server) when determining the cost of the deployment. This lets you compare costs on a per-virtual-server basis. If you anticipate needing even more capacity in the future, consider a blade solution. Some vendors offer blade solutions designed specifically for SMEs. With their shared power, cooling, cabling, and storage, blade servers help save space and costs. It’s also easy to add servers to the blade chassis when capacity needs grow.

Repurpose underutilized servers and retire legacy servers. Due to the old one-application-per-server model, many SMEs may have a higher percentage of underutilized servers compared to larger enterprises. Because SMEs generally have smaller IT budgets, they can benefit from repurposing underutilized hardware. For example, virtualization can free up servers for testing, backup, or storage. Retiring legacy servers also saves floor space.

“SMEs can lower their overall IT costs by consolidating with virtualization and may be able to run longer without spending more on computer or network hardware,” says Mike Wronski, vice president of product management at Reflex Systems ( “By leveraging performance monitoring and capacity planning tools, it’s possible to right-size the environment for the load and to only purchase new hardware when absolutely necessary.”

Evaluate virtualization management capabilities. SMEs generally have limited IT staff and lack virtualization experts. Learning new management tools requires time. Managing numerous dedicated servers is time-consuming, as well. Virtualization can promote faster server provisioning and efficient management.

To reduce security risks, make sure the management tools let you secure and manage all of your virtual servers. “Virtualization introduces a new software layer, and existing network security plans may be rendered less effective,” says Wronski. “You will want to be able to administer, audit, and secure all of these machines to ensure that the new technology you’re bringing into your environment isn’t exposing you to unforeseen risks.”

Plan and test for availability and disaster recovery. Virtualization can significantly improve availability and help eliminate downtime. For example, you can move virtual machines between hosts during maintenance, quickly create a new virtual machine if one goes down, and streamline backup tasks to reduce the severity of service outages. “For SMEs, delivering affordable business continuity solutions is one of the biggest potential benefits of virtualization,” says Andrews. “Many SMEs have a backup solution in place, but they have not tested the recovery process, and that is often the most difficult part. Virtualization lowers the cost and complexity bar significantly, especially for small businesses.”

Move to shared storage. Moving from direct-attached storage to shared storage can support the transition to a fully virtualized environment. A shared storage system helps reduce costs and increases availability in a virtual server environment, and vendors have developed solutions specifically for the SME environment. “Server virtualization not only reduces the server footprint but allows for the use of different server hardware shared by the same application, removing any interoperability issues,” says Fadi Albatal, vice president of product marketing at FalconStor ( “Storage virtualization allows for that level of abstraction and independence providing a higher level of service and availability, but also allowing complete mobility of the data between different tiers of storage, depending on workload requirements.”

Any virtual storage solution should meet your performance and availability requirements, especially as storage needs change. For example, an iSCSI storage solution lets you use your existing IP infrastructure, unlike storage solutions that require special cabling. It can also provide more flexible storage capacity and easier management compared to Fibre Channel storage.

by Carmen Carmack

Virtualization Is Among Key SME Technologies

In a survey of Microsoft Small Business Specialists, Microsoft determined that backup (61%), IT consolidation (55%), virtualization (51%), mobile solutions (50%), and security (48%) are the top key technology areas in SMEs. All five areas correlate to the value that specialists ascribe to small and midsized servers.

Microsoft’s report states that consolidation is key to reducing costs with direct savings in management, hardware, power, insurance, and other areas. Standardization will lead to less-complex administration, enabling increased security, lowering maintenance costs, and simplifying deployment and planning. Virtualization provides additional opportunities for more consolidation.

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