Understanding the virtual machine: Do virtual servers fit small business?

This is part two of our Virtual Machine blog series.

Now that we’ve defined virtualization in last week’s post on virtual server basics, let’s look at more specific advantages for using this technology. Newminders Luke Reynolds and Steve Chang are back to talk about principles and specific use-cases.

Virtual Servers are mostly used in 2 ways

In most cases, virtual servers haven’t been a preferred strategy for clients needing a new ‘main’ server. Mostly we recommend using server virtualization as a way to keep old servers running inside new hardware instead of relying on their original, aging hardware. That way there’s less danger of an old physical part failing and causing trouble for the critical software.

Less common is the simple tactic of managing the physical space that your organization wants to dedicate towards servers. For instance, if a small business needed a robust setup of different servers, but had a very limited amount of space to dedicate towards the units, running multiple virtual servers in a single unit might be an effective strategy.

When should virtualization become an option?

“Say you have a small company that does a lot of graphical work, and needs to be running a lot of specialized software, as well as servers to host that specialized software, and they only have a space the size of a coat closet to devote towards servers—one option for them would be virtual servers,” Steve says. “Instead of making the room for an entire server farm, they can invest in a single powerful unit that houses eight virtual servers.”

Smaller companies should think twice about virtualizing everything though, as it can be quite cost prohibitive. If you’re going to virtualize less than 4 servers on a single unit, it’s probably best to just get 4 servers, or consider cloud-based servers. However, if the company is large enough to afford it, the virtual option remains a powerful strategy for business continuity.

Who should be virtualizing?

The place where server virtualization becomes a clear-cut advantage is when you get into enterprise businesses and cloud-based technology, where large farms of servers are required. It gives you a distinct leg up because you can spin-up and spin-down the servers very quickly (simply put: waking up and putting-to-sleep servers that you don’t need running all the time).

For smaller and mid-sized businesses though, virtualization is there to provide development environments, compatibility testing between older and newer hardware and software, and to provide a sort of “sandbox” test environment for new software.

Going virtual also means that if a server suddenly fails on you, and that server has been backed up as an image, you could be looking at a much shorter downtime to get up and running. Newminder Ryan Hawkins said that Newmind’s backup service (which uses virtualization) can bring a downed server back online in as little as one hour—and time is critical if you’re looking at a web domain or financial server.

So should you virtualize?

We broke the question down into a few conditions:

  • Do you need to run many servers but lack the physical space for them?
  • Do you need a stronger server backup strategy?
  • Does your organization need to keep outdated server software on hand?
  • Does your organization need an improved infrastructure for specialized software servers?

If so, it might be time to consider virtual machines as an option.

Next time we’ll be looking at virtual desktops and thin clients. What kind of virtual machines is your organization using?

Posted in Business Continuity, Innovation and tagged , .

About

Luke Reynolds is a new member of Newmind's IT managed services team. Previously he worked with schools, not-for-profits, and businesses to help them acquire and deploy Google Chromebooks on the enterprise level. Luke Reynolds enjoys writing, music, film, and any form of radical human expression. He's also a rabid proponent of Kalamazoo's local roller derby team, the Killamazoo Derby Darlins.