When dealing with many of our SMB clients (small or medium businesses) that are not virtualized, the conversation usually starts with, “I have 5-7 year old servers that are starting to have issues and are not under maintenance, and I need to update them.” I fully admit that I am biased, and the first thing I suggest is to virtualize and sleep better at night. Here are some things I talk to them about in my conversations.
There are five things to think about before deciding to go virtual or not:
- How many servers do you have? If you have one server and it is running your entire business, you are not a good candidate for virtualization because it will cost much more than just replacing that server and having good backups. There is no magic number of servers that will put you in the “should virtualize” category, but if you have three or more servers, going virtual is something to consider.
- My server is doing everything! It is a best practice to keep a server limited to one function or application. I very often see these small companies running Active Directory, SQL server, and other applications on one system. Virtualization will allow you to have more VMs, each with, at the most, two functions without the added expense of additional hardware. This makes disaster recovery and security much easier when the roles are separated.
- All my eggs are in one basket. Most of these environments do not have, and cannot afford, any redundancy. They have a few physical servers running their business critical applications and a switch and (hopefully) firewall. Upgrading to a virtual environment is a great time to build in the redundancy you need to lose any individual piece of hardware and not lose any business critical services. No need for the “48 hour downtime is acceptable” mentality.
- That is not supported. The days where applications are not supported in a virtual environment are gone. The vast majority of software in the commercial and enterprise market supports virtualization, and some are now starting to offer a virtual only delivery model. Tier one applications such as Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, Exchange, and SAP all support use in a VMware, Xen, or Hyper-V environment.
- I do not know how to run or maintain a virtual infrastructure. Well, that may actually be true. That is still not a show stopper in all cases. The administration skills to run a VMware environment are becoming like a high school degree; it’s one of the base skills that employers are looking for. The sooner you jump on the bandwagon, the sooner you will avoid getting run over by the virtual bus. We have some clients who decided that the benefits of virtualization were too strong to resist and went virtual knowing they did not have the skills yet. GreenPages supported them for 6 months to a year with our Managed Services team until they were confident enough to take over.
Done correctly, switching your aging physical systems to virtual will give you the ability to have redundancy at the physical server, switching, and storage level. VMware has a very good entry level bundle that is a great value (even with the licensing changes introduced in vSphere 5.0) and features that SMB customers need, such as High Availability and vMotion. These features allow you to lose a physical server and still keep all of your applications running. You can also move all of your virtual machines to the other host and then apply patches to the physical server. You also gain the ability to spin up a new virtual machine for testing or a new application without having to go and ask for money for a physical server.
Virtualization is not right for every business in every situation. But for most of the SMB clients I work with, it is the right choice. They tell me three to six months after we have taken them virtual that they don’t know how they ran a business on physical servers and regret not making the move sooner!