Core i7 VirtualBox Server: Why Virtualization?

When I’ve talked to a small business owners about using virtualization in their IT infrastructure, one of the most consistent questions I’ve gotten – well, after “what’s that” – amounts to “why – what’s the advantage?” This is certainly a valid question, and it’s one I had to think about in order to articulate the reasons why a small business owner would want to consider a seemingly unknown, unproven technology.


 

Of course, virtualization technology is neither unknown nor unproven. It may not be well known to “non-techies,” but ask any seasoned IT professional which virtualization platform or hypervisor he or she uses, and you’ll likely hear VMware or Xen or VirtualBox without missing a beat. It’s also a well-proven technology – according to VMware, 100% of the Fortune 100 are using virtualization. Even Microsoft is onboard with virtualization; I recently bought a license for Windows Server 2008 R2 and the package included two installation keys: one for use if installing on physical hardware, and one if installing on a “virtual machine.”

So, if virtualization is familiar to IT pros and in use by large enterprises, why aren’t more small businesses using it, and – more to the point – why start now? I could only speculate why more small businesses haven’t taken advantage of the benefits of virtualization, and I might do just that in a future article. As to “why start now?” – read on…

Reliability. When a server suffers the failure of a critical component that is not easily replaced (such as a motherboard), business can grind to a halt until the server is repaired or replaced. If the hardware is more than two or three years old, it may not be possible to get an exact replacement for the failed component, and the bad news is that Microsoft Windows does not cope well when substituting equivalent-but-different replacements for such components. Replacing a server takes time and can be quite disruptive to business, particularly when the replacement is done in “emergency” circumstances. Virtualization can help in this situation because the virtual machine presents an identical “hardware” environment regardless of the underlying host hardware. As long as the disk file that contains the virtual machine is intact (good backups, a RAID array, or both can help ensure this), it can be moved to a new machine and the server can be back up and running very quickly, without of the time consuming and error prone system configuration or tedious data migration required when deploying a new physical machine.

Manageability. Because the underlying hardware and host operating system is insulated from the server processes running in virtual machines, the host system will most likely remain remotely accessible even if a virtual machine becomes unresponsive. As long as the host system is accessible remotely, the ailing virtual machine can be rebooted (even “power cycled”), diagnosed and corrected without requiring a tech to make a site visit – thereby saving both time and money. Also, if functionality is judiciously partitioned among a few virtual machines, failure of one VM will not necessarily¬†adversely affect the others.

Efficiency. In most small business, space is at a premium. Having two or three or four large computers, each dedicated to a specific task, takes up some (probably too much) of that space. And each of those computers has power and cooling requirements and they each require at least two cables (power and network) to be attached to them at all times. And each of them makes some noise – so the more of them you have, the more noise you have to deal with. It’s well know that in most small business environments server hardware is underutilized; that is, only a fraction of the computing power is used for the vast majority of the time. Virtualization allows a reduction in the number of physical server-class computers required by a small business by allocating the available computing power among multiple¬†virtual machines, each of which performs the function(s) previously provided by a physical machine.

These are the main reasons I advocate integrating virtualization technology into small business IT infrastructure. I’m sure there are others, and I’d love to hear about them – please leave a reply below to let me know what you think!


 

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Andy Anderson

Andy Anderson

The Information Technology "Renaissance Man." With a formal education in Computer Science and over 33 years of professional experience, Andy lived through the personal computing revolution and into the Internet Era. While still providing and managing mainstream commercial products, he now specializes in applying Open Source solutions and virtualization technology to small business IT issues.

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