By: Dan Bremner
Virtualization? Isn’t that only for data centers? Not by a long shot…read on.
While virtualization has clear benefits for companies with large server farms and data centers, this is far from the only application of virtualization. Small businesses have a lot to gain from this trend, and the inclusion of Hyper-V and its features as a “built-in” technology in Windows Server makes a compelling case that smaller companies should not ignore the “virtual” revolution in computing. In addition to Microsoft’s Hyper-V, other virtualization products include the market leader, vSphere from VMware, as well as Citrix XenServer, and Oracle’s VirtualBox.
What is Virtualization?
Simply put, virtualization refers to the ability to run multiple instances of operating systems on a single physical computer, with each of those operating systems running as if they were on their own hardware. The hypervisor (running on the “host”) abstracts the hardware and creates a virtual machine (VM), in effect making each VM “think” it is interacting with real memory, CPU, disk storage, and network interfaces, while the hypervisor is actually managing the process of sharing those physical resources among several VMs (“guests”).
Once this concept is grasped, we can think of a server, conceptually, as a self-contained file that can be moved around from one computer to another, and can run on that new computer with no change in function, no new drivers required, etc.
What Can I Do with Virtual Machines?
Why should small businesses care about virtual technology? Here is a short list of ways that we have used virtualization among Castema’s clients in recent deployments.
- Consolidate hardware. A customer with two aging servers purchased a new (hardware) server, and we migrated the two physical servers into two virtual machines both running on the new single machine. The new, powerful hardware is more than enough to handle the workload of the two previous servers, and was more economical than purchasing two separate machines.
- Get a performance boost. Sometimes an otherwise perfectly functioning server gets to a point where it is exhausting the resources of the hardware, perhaps due to company growth, or new functions being placed upon it. In several cases like this, we have had our client purchase new hardware, while we virtualized the existing server (a process called “physical to virtual” or “P2V” conversion), and moved it to the more powerful hardware as a VM. This is a relatively quick and painless cutover, and allows the new VM to take advantage of the faster CPU, more memory, storage, etc.
- Improve Disaster Recovery options. The Hyper-V software included with Windows Server 2012 includes a new feature, VM Replication. Recently, for a customer that wanted to minimize downtime, we set up a physical server with 2 VMs, and configured those VMs to replicate to a second physical server. If the first machine experiences a hardware failure, the replica can be brought online in a matter of minutes and pick up where the original left off. The replica is kept current in near-real time, so if any work is lost at all, it should be only a matter of a few minutes, and will be a much faster and more up-to-date recovery than restoring from last night’s backup. An even more robust DR is possible by replicating those VMs to a server in another location, protecting against an event that might knock out the entire primary location, e.g. fire, flood, power outage, theft, etc.
- Run software intended for another platform. If you use Apple Macs, you may have heard of Parallels software, or its competitor, Fusion by VMWare. Both products create a VM running on the Mac hardware and capable of running Windows. We have installed this to enable people who need to run Windows-only programs to use those programs on their Mac.
- Run Legacy software. Sometimes an older program needs to be used for business reasons, and there may not be an option to upgrade. If that older program doesn’t run on newer versions of Windows, VMs can be a way around it, as a transitional phase toward a more permanent solution. Much like running Windows on the Mac, you can use a VM to run older versions of Windows within newer versions. (Or run Linux on your Windows desktop, or any number of variations.) In fact, Windows 7 Professional had a feature called “XP Mode” that hid a lot of the details, but behind the scenes was actually running Windows XP in a VM to support older programs.
Virtually every new server deployment (pun intended, sort of) we have done for customers in the past year or more has involved virtualization. If you’re thinking about a new server, chances are good that we’ll bring up virtualization when we discuss the project with you. If you’re not currently a Castema Managed IT client, but you’d like to know more about how we can help improve your technology infrastructure through virtualization and other means, by all means, give me a shout, or send an email to email@example.com.