Your business’ servers are extraordinarily expensive machines. Maintaining them isn’t cheap, but if they fail, it can be very bad for business. What does the small business that doesn’t have tens of thousands of dollars to throw into a server do when they need to stretch their IT budget?
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What is a Virtual Machine?
Virtual machines (VMs) act as virtual computers or virtual servers, that can be hosted in the cloud taking advantage of scalable on-demand resources at a lower price-point than purchasing a new server or on your existing hardware like high-powered workstations or business servers.
A virtual machine (VM) provides the ability to host multiple virtual servers, providing more incentive for a business to go big with their initial IT expenses because you can get immense value out of them.
Let’s start with some terms that are often associated with virtual machines:
- Virtualization – Virtualization is the process where information that is found on physical hardware (or the physical hardware itself) is transferred into a virtual environment.
- Hypervisor – The process that takes hardware resources and combines them in a way where they can be delivered into a virtual environment.
- P2V – Short for “physical-to-virtual”, which is the act of migrating resources from a physical server to a virtual one.
- Snapshot – An image of the state of a virtual machine at any specific point. In a snapshot you can see all of the data, configurations, and programs that are open at the time, in effect saving all the work that has been done on that system.
- Clone – An exact copy of a virtual machine that can be transferred to another VM.
Host and Guest
When committing to using virtualized resources, you need to understand that your VM is the guest of a host machine. The host machine is typically a high-powered server that you would have normally used to host your computing resources, while each virtual machine, whether it is a virtualized server or a virtualized desktop (or something else), are guests on the hosted machine. By being able to fit several guest machines on one host machine, you can save a substantial amount of money.
Uses of Virtual Machines
The virtual machine is often used for non-essential purposes, but it can be rolled out to cover about any computing process a business may need. VMs are predominantly utilized in resource testing, running outdated operating systems required by legacy systems, software design and testing, or consolidating servers within a business. Some more popular uses cases virtual machines in business include:
- Trying out a new operating system (OS) – Running a new OS on a virtual machine can provide technicians and administrators with the perspective needed to determine if the new OS is right for their business.
- Use Desktop as thin client – the virtual desktop turns even a PC with fewer resources into a productivity machine.
- Testing software – One of the most prevalent uses is to test new software before installing it on a larger computing infrastructure.
- Consolidation – Virtual machines are being used more than ever. Today, virtual server technology can allow organizations to roll out one server and use it to host several. This presents the opportunity for major cost savings.
Business Benefits of Virtualization
Virtualization, the implementation of virtual machines within an organization, is not a new trend. Thankfully many small and medium businesses are realizing the many benefits to virtualization can offer, especially when coupled with a hosted cloud service provider (shameless plug – we’re a Certified Microsoft Cloud Service Provider). Check out how desktop and server virtualization can help your growing business gain a competitive advantage:
- Reduced Hardware Costs – In our experience most small business servers are only utilizing 40-60% of their hardware resources so instead of buying another server, your business can spin up a virtual server.
- Faster Desktop and Server Provisioning and Deployment – Spend more time on driving your business forward instead of in your business. Deploying a new server takes several time-consuming steps – server installation, dependency resolution, securing and resource optimization, as well as, installing the actual software and services needed. With virtualized systems you’re able to deploy a new virtual server in minutes using secure pre-configured server templates.
- Small Footprint and Energy Saving – Kilowatts (KWs) add up, virtualization reduces the office space needed to maintain and expand your IT capabilities while freeing up desk space for your growing business to support more employees.
- Improved Data Security and Disaster Recovery – According to a University of Texas study, 94% of companies suffering from a catastrophic data loss do not survive – 43% never reopen and 51% close within two years. Virtualization streamlines the disaster recovery process by replicating your servers off-site in the cloud. Since VMs are independent of the underlying hardware, you don’t need the same physical servers offsite to facilitate a secondary recovery site. In the event of a disaster, your team can be back online in a few minutes with an easy and cost-effective backup and disaster recovery solution.
- Portability and Migration – One of the major physical server vs virtual server differences lies in portability. You can easily move VMs across the virtual environments and even from one physical server to another, with minimal input on your part. Since VMs are isolated from one another and have their own virtual hardware, this makes a VM hardware-independent. Moving your physical server environment to another location is a more resource-intensive task. You would need to copy all data stored on the server to a removable media, transport the media as well as all hardware resources that you have to a new location, and then re-install all of the system components on a new server. Essentially, you will have to rebuild a server from scratch.
- Increasing IT Operational Efficiency – In a recent survey of more than 300 senior business and IT managers for SMBs, VMware found 73% reported significant improvement on time spent managing routine admin tasks. Why? Simple – nine out of 10 IT departments spend at least half of their time managing routine administrative tasks. When you partition one physical server into several virtual machines, you can deploy, operate, and manage multiple operating systems at once from a single physical server.
Virtualization Frequently Asked Questions
- What’s the best time for a small business to take advantage of virtualization?
If you’re investigating upgrading your servers, including software or hardware, and when adding additional servers are the most obvious times you will want to investigate whether virtualization is right for your business (hint: you’re probably ready). Frankly, we recommend organizations with only one or two servers to look at virtualization since administrative tasks like upgrades, patching, and migrations are a breeze across servers built with Xen, HyperV or VMware.
- What are the capabilities of a virtual machine?
VMs extend the capabilities of your existing infrastructure, whether hosted on a workstation or physical server, because they allow you to run multiple operating systems at the same time, test new software, create backup images of your existing system to gain faster recovery in the event of a disaster, develop new applications and even deliberately execute malware or test suspicious files.
All of this can be done in a completely siloed sandbox environment. End users have the same experience as they would on an identical physical machine.
- How many virtual machines can run on a single server?
The number of virtual machines you can run is largely dependent on the performance resources like your CPU, amount of RAM (Random Access Member), and storage capacity of your computer or server.
Licensing limitations exist but this is rarely a constraint for small business. For example, with Hyper-V on Windows Server 2016, you could have as many as 1024 VMs but the more relevant question is – do you have the performance resources (CPU, RAM and SSD storage) to do so? With today’s technologies, small businesses need to identify how many virtual machines they need to support, and the hardware resources required to do so.
- How secure are virtual machines?
Virtual machines are an isolated environment from the physical operating system, so you can run potentially dangerous stuff, such as malware, without fear of compromising your main OS. So naturally they are more secure than physical computers networked together.
To secure your VMs, keep the guest operating systems patched and protect your environment the same way you would protect your physical machine – by utilizing anti-virus and following security best practices. Not sure where to start? Check out our article on implementing security best practices.
- How do we get started with virtualization?
This is an important question, we’ve dedicated a section below for this. In short, you’ll want to complete a solid analysis of your server requirements, applications, and software.
Migration planning is key to a successful implementation, when done properly, typically a small business may see server-dependent systems down for minutes, if at all during the transition.
Getting Started with Business Virtualization
Companies considering virtualization should consider the following four steps to get started:
- Speak with one of our certified virtualization architects, as your trusted IT advisor we’ll walk you through the benefits of virtualizing your business and share implementation best practices.
- Evaluate the return on investment (ROI) of virtualization with the help of an experienced business technology partner, like IT Support Guys.
- Use free tools to get started, such as VMware vSphere Hypervisor or Oracle VirtualBox VMware Converter and VMware Go.
- When just starting out, start slowly by virtualizing smaller non-business critical applications or systems to get comfortable. Most, if not all, of your server-based application workloads will be good candidates to run from virtual machines.
By virtualizing some of your computing resources, you can save money and gain flexibility. Learn more about how implementing virtual machines can save your business thousands from maintaining multiple servers and physical legacy systems. Call the IT experts at IT Support Guys today at (855) 448-4897.