Four Steps to Virtualization: How to Start a Server Project

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Learn more about Cisco UCS C-Series innovation and value. (4:32 min)

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Brought to you by the Cisco Innovators Program

Virtualization technology is awesome (that's not hyperbole). Like virtual reality, it overcomes physical limitations.

And virtualization - which abstracts the computing functionality of a device from its physical hardware - strengthens a business financially, by reducing expenses.

Is Server Virtualization Right for Your Business?

Server virtualization consolidates multiple operating systems (OS) on a single server. Consider it if you need to do any of the following:

  • Use more applications and OS without breaking budgets for hardware, electricity, and space.
  • Reduce the hours that IT staff spend on installing, patching, administering, and supporting applications servers.
  • Add storage virtualization to reduce application downtime and simplify backup.
  • Master cloud challenges. Having experience with virtual servers will prepare your business for migrating other business-critical services to the cloud.
  • Expand your technical skills. Because virtualization converges systems and network operations, "it'll take you out of your comfort zone if you do only one of the other; today's engineer needs to be skilled in both," says Doug Renner, CEO at Peak IP Solutions. A Cisco® Premier Certified Partner, Peak IP Solutions specializes in IP communications and infrastructure, and provides a range of managed services.

Virtualization is a process that entails more than purchasing and installing a product. It's a technology journey.

To get started, consider the following four steps recommended by some Cisco Certified Partners that have managed virtualization projects for businesses of all sizes.

1. Evaluate Your Systems' and Network's Current Performance and Capacity, and Future Requirements

You're in good company if you're overdue for a technology refresh.

"It's common to see customers suffering from server sprawl, trying to coax performance from disparate OS, or limping along with old hardware," says Edward Sohn, CEO of Ubisec Systems. A Cisco Premier Certified Partner, Ubisec Systems specializes in cloud infrastructure, voice, and security; it also offers Cisco-centric managed services to small and medium-sized businesses.

At the systems level, assess the speed and capacity of your CPUs, processors, and disk I/O, says Sohn. When Ubisec Systems provides this service, "we look at email, file servers, domain services, database applications, hard disk setup, and other systems to evaluate where virtualization could make an improvement," he says.

At the network level, assess the performance of your switching, routing, and WAN links, says Renner. When Peak IP Solutions provides this service, "we often find that WAN acceleration will make a huge difference," he says. "And for anyone doing replication, WAN optimization is essential."

2. Calculate the Payoff: Make the Business Case

In the Innovators article The ROI of Virtualization, Sohn and Renner report on results that businesses have achieved.

3. Create a Strong Infrastructure

Choose virtualization technology that will improve performance as well as reduce complexity and costs, now and in the years ahead. For example, the Cisco Unified Computing System™ (Cisco UCS™) platform provides unified fabric and a single management interface, for higher performance and lower costs.

  • Switching: Renner and Sohn recommend 10 Gigabit Ethernet switches, or Gigabit Ethernet at a minimum.
  • Hypervisor software: Both partners recommend VMware, the industry leader.
  • Servers: "Virtualization requires beefy network servers," Sohn says. "Resist the temptation to skimp, or to mix and match server vendors, because over time you'll experience problems with administration, memory and storage capacity, and performance."

    Advantages of Cisco UCS C-Series rack servers include their hard-disk capacity, extended memory, and a management controller that enables "lights out" remote server management. An optional virtual interface card also enables just-in-time provisioning and reduces CapEx for NICs, host bus adapters, cabling, and switches.

    C-Series server prices start at about $3000. Ideal for virtualizing servers such as Microsoft Exchange and SQL, the Cisco UCS C-Series can also be the first building blocks of an infrastructure that encompasses unified communications and blade servers.

  • Storage: Renner recommends replicating each server as a complete virtualized image, updating it regularly, and storing it at your site in a separate disk-based storage appliance so you can use it immediately as a backup virtual server. Peak IP Solutions also offers a disaster-recovery managed service that replicates and monitors server backups and stores encrypted copies offsite at two data center sites.

4. Map Your Virtualization Timeline, Team, and Support

When you have your virtualization hardware and software in hand, the migration timeline can range from two or three weeks to two or three months, depending on the number of sites and servers and your staff resources.

From the outset, align your company's server and network staff to avoid increasing operations costs. "A systems person, whose expertise is managing servers, OS, and applications, will need network skills to manage things like traffic, VLANs, and switching," says Renner. "And a network person will have to know how to manage the systems, such has how to push quality of service down into servers." If your IT staff doesn’t yet have the expanded skills required by virtualization, bring in external expertise.

Cisco Certified Partners with expertise in virtualization can help your organization plan and take its virtualization journey - including technology financing and installation, training, and award-winning ongoing support.

NEXT STEPS:

Find a local Cisco Certified Partner to help you get started with virtualization.

Show your CEO or CFO the Innovators article The ROI of Virtualization

Watch a video overview of the Cisco UCS C-Series.

Join the Cisco Innovators Program to continue receiving articles, videos, and offers specifically for small and medium-sized businesses. Already a member? Refer a friend

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