This is the first part of our Virtual Machine blog series. Be sure to check back for part two of the series later this month.

When the term “virtual server” flashes across your computer screen, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Was it a flickering Tron-style hologram of the waiter pouring you a tall drink? As cool as that would be, the types of servers we’ll be discussing in this series belong to a class of technology called virtual machines, and we’ve brought on a couple of our senior tech team members, Steve Chang and Luke Reynolds, to help us understand how they work. Today, Steve will be giving us the rundown on server basics, and the circumstances that might call for virtual servers.

Server virtualization is an interesting and advanced business tool, allowing an organization to create an additional server without buying or installing a separate physical device, but before we get into the “why?” of defining virtual servers, we’re going to quickly review the purpose of any server in the business setting. Steve says it’s pretty simple.

“Servers offer a centralized location for data storage, security for that data storage, various lines of defense for memory failure. They might be used to host all of the email conducted by a business, or host heavy-resource programs like CAD, for businesses that use remote desktop through lightweight devices.”

Steve goes on to note that not every program necessarily needs to have its own server though—a business could have one server dedicated entirely to finance needs, but certain programs do not like working with others on the same system.

“For example, one of our clients has timekeeping software that simply will not run on the same server as their domain controller (a server dedicated to a certain type of security), so they need a second server just for timekeeping.”

Once an organization takes on the complexity to need multiple servers, a certain choice presents itself: conventionally, this need would be addressed through the installation of additional physical server units, but an advanced alternative can be found in a process known as server virtualization.

So what is server virtualization?

“In a basic sense, server virtualization is the utilization of one heavily-resourced piece of hardware to host multiple images of servers—virtual servers—that will handle their respective roles and processes as if they were in separate server units.”

In simpler terms, to virtualize a server means that you’re taking the server software, which is ordinarily built on all the physical components of the server unit, and essentially “separating” it from the physical unit, so that it exists only as a virtual chunk of information (an image of the server). This image can then either exist in the same unit alongside other software, or it can be essentially copied and pasted into a new physical space, saving you the trouble of backing up the server’s contents, and manually reinstalling it with a new operating system.

“For example, Newmind Group was helping a school that had a difficult server situation- they had two physical servers, but one of them was on lease, and when it came time to return that unit, we were able to virtualize its contents, and transfer it to the server that was staying in the school. Of course, that’s a short-term solution, because not all hardware can handle multiple servers at the same time, but it’s an effective tactic to keep them up and running, while they work on getting the hardware they need for their servers to operate smoothly.”

Now that we’ve covered the basic definitions, in our next post Luke Reynolds will cover specific scenarios and potential cases for server virtualization. Would you like us to take on any unique questions regarding server strategy or virtualization?