Virtualization to Increase Business Efficiency and Decrease Costs

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By Michael Robnett, Service Delivery Manager at FORTRUST

FORTRUST Data Center in Denver is pleased to present another installment in its Application Notes series to outline the benefits of new technology to increase business efficiency and enhance the bottom line. In this installment, FORTRUST discusses virtualization by outlining the benefits of a virtual model (VM) and providing an analysis of implementation. Consistent with our consultative approach to conducting business, we offer this information to our FORTRUST customers, partners and the technology community to provide ideas to enhance business in an increasingly complex information technology-driven environment.

FORTRUST is a high-availability data center that provides colocation and data center services including virtualization services for any-size enterprise.

What is virtualization?

Virtualization is an application of technology that is fundamentally changing the way people compute by allowing one computer do the job of multiple computers. In a virtual environment, it is possible for one computer to run multiple operating systems and various applications at the same time increasing the usability and flexibility of that single computer. This frees people and their hardware from physical and geographical limitations and provides opportunity for greater efficiency and financial savings. As a result, CIO’s and CTO’s across the globe are making virtualization part of their IT infrastructure.

What types of virtualization are there?

Virtualization can take place over many platforms including application infrastructure, client/desktop applications, server virtualization and storage and network virtualization. This brief focuses on server virtualization only.

Why virtualization?

Today, many businesses are exploring a virtual model in an overall effort to go “green.” However, virtualization provides additional benefits including disaster recovery and business continuity solutions by reducing the infrastructure footprint and minimizing operational costs while striving to improve performance and reliability.

How does virtualization work?

Simply put, server virtualization allows you to take a single piece of hardware and transform it into multiple “virtual” machines. To create a virtual environment, there are many solutions available with the most popular being VMware, Microsoft and Xen. For example, VMware ESX will allow you to “virtualize” CPU, hard disk, RAM, and a network controller allowing you to run multiple OS instances on a single hardware device.

What are the advantages of a virtual environment?

  • Higher Utilization – Virtualization can tap into underutilized resources. Today’s enterprise servers dedicated to a single application may use 10 to 20 percent of its capacity; a virtualization layer can increase utilization to 70 to 80 percent. For example, instead of 50 servers running at 30 percent of capacity, you can have 20 to 25 servers running at 70 to 80 percent utilization.
  • Lower Capital Expenses – By leveraging the unused capacity, virtualization efforts can dramatically reduce capital purchases of new server hardware by as much as 50 percent.
  • Reduction in Operating Expenses – With fewer servers to operate, you can achieve far lower costs for power consumption, cooling, real estate and maintenance.
  • Faster Provisioning – One of the many challenges in IT application deployment is rolling out new servers. With virtualization, you can provision a server in hours or days, not weeks. This gives you greater managerial flexibility and options.
  • Improved Service Levels – In a virtualization environment, IT can be more responsive to business needs by providing new services faster with a greater number of service options.

Are there any downsides to virtualization?

The drawbacks in a virtual environment occur when systems aren’t managed to the level that you might maintain your physical environment. The drawbacks may be easily addressed with standards that keep systems and applications protected and running at peak performance. Following are issues to keep in mind.

  • Security “Zones” – What used to be separated at the physical layer is now only separated at the virtual layer. Know this distinction to keep your environment protected. Further, you must apply the same rigorous standards to your virtual internal and external applications as you would your physical environment.
  • OS Security – It is important that you maintain the same level of security in your VM environment as you would your physical. Keep your VM current with critical patches and updates. Not doing so in a virtual environment can be catastrophic.
  • Naming Conventions – It’s amazing how fast you will create VM’s vs. the time it takes to implement physical infrastructure. Be consistent with the naming conventions from the start; it can quickly get out of control.
  • Mixed Environments – In your current physical production environment, it is unlikely that you have mixed your Q/A and test environments. Your virtual environment is no different. Take caution when creating your pre- and post-production environments so that you do not impact production.
  • Maintenance – Don’t forget to clean up after yourself. It is easy while testing and creating new VM’s to neglect old VM’s and clutter your environment. It’s a good idea to audit your environment on a quarterly basis to keep things under control.
  • Performance – Determine what you are trying to solve. Buying a huge blade center or a massively over-configured stand-alone CPU and applying a VM will not necessarily get you the results you are seeking. Keep in mind I/O requirements. The way you configure your storage will have a lot to do with your performance.

Summary

If a virtual model is implemented and maintained correctly, you and your enterprise will realize a host of benefits including enhanced efficiency, expanded access to a wide range of applications and bottom-line improvement. A solid three-year strategy that is in line with your company’s objectives can easily meet growth requirements, improve time to market, significantly reduce risk, and significantly reduce overall costs.

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