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July 16, 2010 • Vol.32 Issue 15
Page(s) 43 in print issue

The Move To Virtualization
How Can It Affect Your Enterprise & IT Staff?

Key Points

• Follow best practices when initially implementing a virtual environment.

• First determine which application(s) to virtualize; you might choose to make them all virtual.

• When planning your initial environment, consider how your systems will grow and your virtual environment will change over time.

Many small to medium-sized enterprises are turning to virtualization for some or all of their applications.

Virtualization basically separates the software environment from the underlying hardware, explains Chris Webber, who describes himself as the current virtualization guru at network security and management provider Blue Coat Systems (www.bluecoat.com).

But before investing in the technology, IT managers still need to thoroughly investigate virtualization, with an eye toward its impact on the enterprise, adds Steve Lesem, CEO at cloud storage provider Mezeo Software (www.mezeo.com). For instance, Lesem explains that while many current servers have a utilization rate of 10%, virtualization of servers can significantly increase that rate while driving down usage costs.

“Virtualization can give a better utilization of resources, but you will have to decide which aspects of the company to virtualize first,” Lesem explains. Enterprises just setting up shop may decide to install virtual servers for all enterprise applications from the get-go, he adds.

When managers move applications from individual hardware to shared hardware, they can expect to consolidate server space by anywhere from one-tenth to one-half, Webber says.

Cost Savings

The consolidation adds up to important cost savings, too, because the machines will take up less space, which makes for less money spent on fees for space and for cooling costs. Many managers fail to factor cooling savings into the virtualization equation, Webber explains.

He stresses that over the past five years, makers of virtualization software have upgraded their hypervisors to the point that IT managers no longer need a great deal of expertise in installing virtualization software. The hypervisor, or virtualization manager, is a program that allows different operating systems to run in isolation from one another, even though each of these systems uses computing power and storage space on the same computer.

Five years ago, when Webber was investigating with the server team, he said there was much more to consider because, at that time, hypervisors were limited.

“We’d have to track memory and hard disk over time and do a lot of math. We’d have to think about, for example, how much CPU the mail server would need when no one was checking mail at night vs. in the morning when everyone is using email,” he explains. “But now the hypervisors are so good, they’ll notice something is spiking up, so I’ll give it more CPU, and other things are sitting idle, so they’ll ratchet them back a little,” he adds.

Especially For SMBs

Although the learning curve is much lower for IT staffers today than in the past, they’ll still benefit by spending time determining how to best design the virtual environment before implementation, says Renata Budko, co-founder of HyTrust (www.hytrust.com), which provides a solution to help IT administrators with their virtualization environments.

“For the SMB, a challenge can be how to acquire the expertise to configure this in the first place, because IT is pressed for time and [has] to wear so many different hats,” Budko explains.

Many virtual servers now include management tools that help cut ramp-up time, she adds.

Still, IT staffers who are building a virtual environment from scratch should follow best practices in server management and configuration. “This will help them down the road, when they have to add servers or when they have to do the backup,” Budko says. “It’s considerably harder to implement advanced features later on if you haven’t designed it right the first time.”

If your IT staff hasn’t implemented the separation of duties feature, for example, it won’t be able to virtualize the human resources database down the road. That’s because the separation feature partitions the infrastructure where sensitive data lives. “You have to design separate clusters within the virtual infrastructure from the start; that way you can virtualize everything,” Budko explains.

Once designed and implemented, your IT staff will find that server management and backups are easier in a virtual environment. This is in part because virtualization allows for a common management platform across all hardware and applications, Webber explains.

“You’re not married to a certain piece of hardware or operating system,” he says. “You have ease of management because once you know how to do something for one thing you know how to do it for everything.

"In my organization, we had the Windows side of the house and the not Windows side, and all of the sudden, when we virtualized things, we realized we didn’t need to be tied to an operating system quite so closely. Regardless of the operating system we used, the underlying technology was the same,” Webber says.

It’s that kind of ease-of-use—combined with cost savings—that have more and more IT managers investigating virtual technology for their enterprises.

by Jean Thilmany


Up-Front Expense

So how will an enterprise’s employees fare when the data center moves to the virtual world? According to Blue Coat Systems’ (www.bluecoat.com) Chris Webber, they won’t notice any differences. In fact, he says they may notice more uptime because software won’t get hung up when it runs out of storage space on the server.

It’s the chief financial officers to whom IT managers will need to sell virtualization. That’s because an enterprise will need to pony up money for the initial hardware outlay.

“But that hardware cost is easily recouped, because you’ll be paying less for cooling, power, and space,” Webber says.


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