Virtualization: Less is More

With the impending end of support for Microsoft Windows Server 2003, small businesses need to decide how to upgrade their IT infrastructure. Windows Server 2003 has been a great stable platform for file- and print- sharing on the LAN, as well as enterprise systems for accounting and resource planning. If you have systems running on Server 2003, they are likely also running on aging hardware.

Modern server hardware combined with a hypervisor allows for one physical machine to host many virtual machines. Each virtual machine runs its own operating system, and has its own allocation of CPU resources, memory and disk space. This yields tremendous benefits:

  • Most server workloads never use all the computing horsepower available; virtual machines can utilize an otherwise-idle system, and balance the load amongst many VMs
  • Each VM is isolated from all others, so that a software problem with one system does not affect the others – a big improvement over the older model, where one operating system might have several services running
  • Each VM has its own operating system (and requires its own license) – Windows,  Linux, etc. This can allow you to continue to operate a legacy system along side a new system during a transition period
  • Each VM can be re-configured as needed (often without a service interruption). Setting up a new software service or testing a new product can be done in minutes
  • Fewer physical machines generally means lower cost for hardware, maintenance, power and cooling, as well as a more compact data center (or server closet!)

Microsoft, VMWare and several other players in the virtualization game offer free hypervisor packages which make it easy to experiment with VMs and get a feel for how they can benefit your company’s infrastructure.

VMWare’s vSphere Hypervisor provides is my preferred virtual server, assuming that your hardware can support it (plenty of recent server hardware is fine, but it’s important to check the hardware compatibility guide first) . The management tools available are easy to use and provide everythign applicable to a single-server installation. The licensed versions add features that are important for two or more servers (For production use in a small business the VMWare vSphere Essentials Kit is ideal; the license starts at $560US).

Microsoft offers Hyper-V Server 2012 . Hyper-V has the benefit of being a Windows operating system ‘under the hood’ so hardware and drivers availability means it can work on a wider variety of server hardware. On the server itself, there is only a basic command line interface – most management is done remotely from a Windows PC with management tools installed. The virtual capabilities of this free package are identical to those provided in Window Server 2012, but in the licensed version you have the option of a full Windows desktop with management tools. An interesting side benefit for Microsoft Server 2012: each license purchased grants two server ‘instances’, one of which can be a physical machine. So, for example, with two Server 2012 licenses you could run a physical server with the Hyper-V role, plus three more virtual Server 2012 machines.

Adding the ‘virtual’ layer on top of the physical one may seem to be just an added layer of complexity at first, but the flexibility you gain really does make life simpler in the long run.

I can help you decide if your organization is ready to be virtual – contact me today!