Operating virtual environments: What comes next?

Published at Dell Tech Page One by Ritika Puri

Virtualization refers to the process of creating a “virtual” version of a hardware operation by building multiple copies of an operating system on top of a single machine. Operating Virtual machines operate like real computers and have the potential to improve server performance without the need for expensive hardware upgrades.

Businesses looking to purchase new servers or create a development environment for new engineering initiatives may consider virtualization as an alternative to replacing their current systems.

Shneur Garb

Shneur Garb, founder of the Garb Consulting Group, says there are many solutions that will allow the entire server to be backed up in the cloud, locally or both.

Virtualization also helps organizations scale their IT resources. Businesses may need to build a fail-safe, for instance, to prepare for unforeseen surges in website activity or natural disasters. Virtual servers make it possible for employees to access their desktops, email accounts or files from any machine. More importantly, business owners can save money by running multiple virtual machines on one box.

Virtual servers are long-term investments that business owners should approach with a future-proof IT plan. When considering whether to implement a virtual environment, businesses need to be prepared for maintenance costs and unexpected growth within their organizations.

Preparing for worst case scenarios

Even the most solid and well-maintained IT infrastructures have the potential to fail. Although there is always a risk associated with un-racking a physical server, virtualization minimizes this risk by creating virtual versions of the hardware environment that can serve as backup during upgrades. Virtualization also makes it possible to manage and upgrade servers through software.

Just as with physical servers, however, virtualized environments can become corrupt or vulnerable to disaster. Businesses should have a recovery plan in place to facilitate swift data restoration. Regular server backups are an absolute must.

“Businesses need to have a recovery plan in place before they can scale,” explains Chip Trim, president of IT consulting firm TR Technologies. “In addition to off-site backup, businesses should make sure that they have protection against user error.”

Shneur Garb, founder of the Garb Consulting Group, echoes Trim’s advice and explains that businesses have a variety of options for managing their backups.

“There are many hardware and software solutions that will allow the entire server to be backed up in the cloud, locally or both,” says Garb. “In case a server is corrupt or the physical box that is housing the virtual operating system has a hardware issue, the entire server can be restored.”

An IT consultant can help small businesses develop the most cost effective and efficient backup solution.

Leaving room for upgrades

Although virtualization makes it possible to host multiple servers on a single machine, it’s important to keep in mind is that there is a threshold for memory (RAM) and hard drive space. Businesses need to make sure they have the hardware infrastructure to support natural growth in their organizations. It’s inefficient to run five virtual servers on a box that can only support two.

“It’s critical to purchase a high-end physical box to house the virtual servers,” explains Garb. “Many of our small business clients will be able to implement their first couple of virtual servers without a problem. Without the proper hardware, however, new additions can be sluggish.”

Business owners should also make sure that there is enough bandwidth for performance.

“We typically like to use a separate storage device that will allow us to add additional physical disks,” explains Trim. “We run benchmarks on all server systems to see what the capabilities are for storage on the physical machines. We make sure that we exceed that benchmark for virtual machines.”

In addition to purchasing hardware that allows for memory and storage upgrades, business owners should also remember to evaluate software costs.

“Assume that you will eventually need more servers,” says Garb. “Make sure that you’re purchasing and using operating systems that allow for more licenses down the line.”

Maintaining access to expertise

Because many small business owners are budget conscious, they may try to complete virtualization projects themselves. In taking a do-it-yourself approach, it’s important to take the time to learn the systems properly or have access to IT resources or consultants who can help if things go wrong.

“If that is the case, the time and care should definitely be taken to train and qualify resources in house,” explains Chris Rogers, an IT consultant. “If time is a factor, a consultant is well worth the cost to do it right.”

There are also numerous free resources available that business owners can download for products such as Xen hypervisor, XenServer, CloudStack, OpenStack or VMWare ESXi. Starting with existing hardware may also help avoid problems associated with installing entirely new systems.

“Install them on existing hardware and get some experience with the concepts,” says Rogers. “Most savvy small business users will find the learning curve is reasonable with a modest investment of time.”