Spotlight on Server Virtualization
Small and midsize businesses are becoming increasingly aware of server virtualization’s benefits. By consolidating the functions of multiple servers on a single machine, organizations can save on equipment purchases, streamline IT administrative activities, simplify disaster recovery and business continuity, and cut energy costs.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America certainly realizes these advantages. Like many organizations, Big Brothers Big Sisters needed to do more with less. Although it supports a network of nearly 400 agencies nationwide, the Philadelphia-based parent organization is a small operation with 100 employees. David Phelan, senior software application developer, says resource constraints led it down the path to virtualization.
“Big Brothers Big Sisters supports its network by providing real-time data acquisition and communication systems, allowing staff to provide support and collect progress metrics on nearly a quarter-million mentoring relationships,” Phelan explains. “Development of our flagship application service provider system, Agency Information Management, was insourced in late 2009 when we were under pressure to reduce our expenses. We had the budget for one server, but we needed several to properly set up and partition development and user acceptance testing environments for our software solutions. Separation of functionality on different servers was a must, but we didn’t want to rebuild the solutions when we outgrew capacity.”
Phelan implemented VMware’s vSphere Hypervisor. The results were evident immediately. “By far the biggest benefits we’ve seen are flexibility and utilization,” he says. “Being able to expand as needed, without a major purchase, has been a boon. We’re also making better use of what processing, memory and storage we do have — using a few midrange systems rather than dozens at low utilization with periodic spikes.”
Phelan notes that after hosting 11 virtual machines on one server, Big Brothers Big Sisters saved roughly $30,000 — the cost of the 10 servers it no longer needed to purchase. It has since expanded to 15 virtual machines and three hosts, which had previously operated as dedicated systems. There will be more changes too.
“We’re moving to storage consolidation and virtualization next, with a long-term goal of a near-complete virtualized infrastructure,” Phelan says. “We’re looking forward to reaping the benefits — not only of acquisition and operating costs, but also fault tolerance and disaster recovery. Despite being a small shop, the reliability of our network’s daily operations is paramount. We see great value in providing better data security and process management with fewer expenditures.”
Optimizing the Data Center
Virtualization begins with a virtual platform. For its VMware vSphere 4 virtualization platform, VMware offers Essentials and Essentials Plus kits that are geared toward small IT environments with fewer than 20 physical servers.
VMware markets vSphere 4 as a cloud operating system, allowing users to consolidate their server, network and storage resources as a single pool or as a private cloud to protect applications and data while leveraging existing IT assets.
vSphere includes vSphere Hypervisor, which lets administrators create virtual machines and run multiple applications on a single server. The VMware vCenter Server provides centralized management and performance monitoring of virtual environments. From a single view, administrators can monitor virtual machines, hosts, data storage and other elements of the virtual infrastructure. Additionally, vCenter Server supports VMware Distributed Power Management, which reduces power consumption when the cluster needs fewer resources.
For business continuity, virtualization automates the data restoration process and makes it hardware-independent. VMware Data Recovery includes image-level and individual file restoration, full and incremental backups and centralized management.
“We wanted to develop our website on Mac laptops [with] a close facsimile of our Linux production environment; [with] VMware, our development code is executed on an image that matches our production OS. If we hadn’t done it, we would have had a less mobile and self-contained development environment for each developer.”
— Gavin Cowie, chief technology officer, Zootoo
“Virtualization has allowed [Softscape] to provide near-real-time automated server deployments, reduce operating costs and take advantage of today’s more powerful server platforms.”
— Jonathan Frappier, former director of IT, Softscape
“By utilizing server virtualization, we’re able to quickly and effectively scale with our customers’ needs, all without the lead time associated with the purchase and setup of new hardware.”
— Neil Capel, founder and CEO, Sailthru
By the Numbers
50% The percentage of server workloads expected to run virtual machines by the end of 2012
53% The percentage of SMBs that have implemented x86 server virtualization or plan to do so in the next 12 months
SOURCE: Forrester Research
$3,300 The amount of administrative cost savings per additional virtual machine realized by the best performers in virtual systems management
SOURCE: Enterprise Management Associates
60% The percentage of virtualized servers that will be less secure than the physical servers they replace through 2012
18.2% The percentage of new servers shipped in the fourth quarter of 2009 that were virtualized (up 3% from fourth-quarter 2008)
What is the single most important benefit of server virtualization?
40% Reduced IT costs
37% Better disaster recovery
14% Improved application deployment
5% Increased energy efficiency
4% Don't know
SOURCE: CDW poll of 351 BizTech readers