The virtual advantage Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2009
These days, companies everywhere are looking even closer at simplified solutions for everything from data security to administration. Virtualization has been the answer for many companies that are now paying less for maintenance, facilities, physical plant floor space and administration.

Once in place, the virtualized infrastructure allows the organization to be far more flexible than with a traditional data center, meeting and exceeding the growth needs of business.

“Virtualization allows you to complete the same workload with a smaller footprint, allowing you to respond to the ever-changing needs to today’s businesses more quickly than with traditional systems,” says Jayson Stokes, director of the Technology Solutions Group at Park Place International. “Provisioning new servers can take minutes instead of weeks, failing over to a secondary data center can take hours instead of days and higher uptime can be achieved over traditional systems.”

Smart Business learned more from Stokes about how virtualization can create efficiencies and save money.

Why are businesses embracing virtualization efforts?

With virtualization, your data center becomes more efficient and resilient. The economic reality is that, when presented with two quotes — one based on a virtualized data center and the other a 1-to-1 server quote — the quote with virtualization, though possibly more expensive upfront, ultimately will save the customer money in the long run.

Say you’re paying money for a colocated facility where you’re paying for floor space. If you have one less rack, your monthly fees go down. The real hard costs are maintenance on the hardware you purchase because, with virtualization, typically you’re buying less hardware. You also don’t need as much cooling because you’re running fewer systems. The soft cost savings come from ease of administration, allowing you to be much more flexible in implementing new applications and new servers.

Whereas with a traditional set of systems, if you have new applications or you’re bringing on another facility that you’re going to host, you would have to go through the budgetary process, purchase the equipment, procure it, deliver it and set it up, which can take many weeks. With virtualization, you still would have to go through the budgetary process, but effectuating the equipment instead of taking weeks could take less than a few hours. So your efficiencies are really gained there in labor and administration.

How does virtualization improve business continuity?

Virtualization extends into the desktop and even into the storage platforms, essentially turning your operating systems into a series of files, which are easily portable, allowing for a more swift transition to a secondary data center in the event of catastrophic failure.

With hardware your recovery procedures have to be tailor made for each application that you have and the recovery process can be very labor intensive. A true disaster recovery is going to be very complex. Because virtualization takes those servers and essentially reduces them to a series of files, you can leverage things like storage area networks (SAN) controller-based copy to replicate your servers from one location to another. For VM ware, for example, there’s something called site recovery manager (SRM) that virtually automates your fail over and fail back. This is, again, taking those series of files and leveraging the SAN copier or controller-based copy utility function to replicate your environment.

Furthermore, it can be largely automated and tested on a regular basis without disrupting your existing environment, which is the single most difficult thing to do in traditional scenarios. A disaster recovery plan isn’t valid unless it can be successfully tested.

How can an independent service organization (ISO) help a business with its virtualization?

Most ISOs can help businesses reduce costs, as their pricing is typically less than the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Many OEMs will likely have a single perspective based on their set of products, whereas an ISO will have a more holistic approach and a larger suite of products from which to choose. An ISO also can provide continuity with a single point of contact for the many needs of the business, and may typically have more real-world experiences that customers can leverage.

How can companies find out if virtualization is right for them?

There are tools out there that are used to assess a company’s existing environment. Say a company has 300 physical servers. A demo can analyze its existing network to find out that the 300 servers can be virtualized into 10 physical. And then you plug in numbers like floor space and cooling costs and maintenance costs and it creates a report that projects the return on investment. Usually companies will see an ROI in 6 months or less.

With this total cost of ownership report, companies can discuss on every level of the business the benefits of virtualization. And that’s the key — to get buy-in at all levels. There are applications that are not appropriate for virtualization, and that tool will help you see that as well.

When you get the people on the ground excited about the administration you can really sell the financial team on the hard costs and the return on investment. You can really get everyone in the organization excited about virtualization because everyone sees the benefits, especially the people who focus on those areas.

Jayson Stokes is the director of the Technology Solutions Group at Park Place International. Reach him at (800) 729-0313 or