Virtualization Best Practices for SMEs
Rajesh Rege, Senior VP, Data Centre, Virtualization & Cloud Business, Cisco India & SAARC
Talk virtualization and most people tend to believe it is relevant to large enterprises only. This is because most large organizations come with sizeable data centers and have the most to gain from the technology. Additionally, there also exists a perception, especially among small businesses that virtualization is difficult to implement and maintain because it needs specialist skills and is an expensive proposition to undertake. Truth however is that, virtualization can work for anyone including SMEs because their IT challenges are very similar to those of large enterprises.
Virtualization which needs less physical hardware means that SMEs can make huge savings on the cost of servers and their maintenance which in turn implies savings on IT staff time. Backups are easy and disaster recovery is a much simpler task.
Virtualization promotes faster server provisioning and efficient management in SME organizations, which generally have limited IT staff and virtualization experts and need to invest a lot of time to help existing staff learn new management tools and manage numerous dedicated servers. A virtualized environment also enables quicker deployment of new services and makes research and development easy.
Recent times have witnessed a significant traction in the SME adoption of server virtualization along with a growth in hosted virtual desktops. The need to provide end users with flexible, uninterrupted access to desktops, reduce IT management costs, improve security and compliance seem to be driving adoption.
Best practices for SMEs to gain from virtualization
Given their apprehensions and challenges with respect to costs and manpower, SMEs need to identify the business goals that virtualization will help them achieve in order to benefit from the technology. Whether it is consolidation of servers and applications, reducing hardware costs, accommodating future expansion, or improving disaster recovery, SMEs must undertake an infrastructure audit to ascertain the extent of virtualization that would benefit them the most.
Understanding and implementing virtualization in tandem with business goals, setting the needs and expectations right, calculating Return on Investment (RoI) are the other things they must do before embarking on the virtualization journey.
Taking a phased approach wherein SMEs first move smaller applications into the virtualized environment and then move mission-critical apps helps gain familiarity with the environment. In order to identify current and future workloads, application needs and concerns and reduce end-user anxiety it is advisable that SMEs involve end users and business partners in the planning stage itself.
Ideally, SMEs can use existing hardware for their virtualization environment. While evaluating new equipment, they must compare the cost and consider solutions based on future need and capacity. Since many SMEs have a higher percentage of underutilized servers compared to larger enterprises, they can benefit from repurposing underutilized hardware and save further on cost. Virtualization can significantly improve availability and help eliminate downtime. Moving to shared storage can support the transition to a fully virtualized environment because it reduces costs and increases server availability.
Many vendors offer virtualization solutions designed specifically for SMEs. Opting for such solutions can help SMEs save power, cooling, cabling, storage costs, space and enable them to add applications easily when capacity needs grow.
In order to benefit fully from virtualization, SMEs must work to align datacenter operations to their network operations. The network(s) must be positioned to efficiently connect to the applications running in the datacenter. Deployment of an architecture that allows server, storage and network resources to be standardized and consolidated, enables greater utilization, enhances resilience, ensures application availability and extends the lifecycle of capital assets. In addition it helps reduce energy and consumption costs leading to a "greener" environment.
SME customers are often surprised by the unforeseen costs and investment needed for core features such as high-availability. By carefully factoring in the upfront costs of shared storage SANs, management servers and the on-going complexity of managing them, unanticipated budget surprises can be avoided.
SMEs that want to ramp business must look for solutions that help unify compute, network and storage access into a cohesive system. Such an approach helps reduce architecture complexity, provide unparalleled flexibility, visibility, and enable policy enforcement within virtualized datacenters. It helps all resources to participate in a unified manner, reduce total cost of ownership (TCO), increase IT staff productivity and improve business agility.
A unified system helps deliver end-to-end optimization for virtualized environments while retaining the ability to support traditional OS and application stacks in physical environments. By choosing integrated solutions designed to simplify the infrastructure requirements without compromising on key features such as high-availability, SMEs can easily scale up or down as needed.
Transitioning to a virtualized environment requires change on many levels. SMEs that move away from a piece-meal approach to an integrated one and manage the datacenter as a whole rather than as individual technology stand to benefit in the long term.