Server Virtualisation for SMEs

What is Virtualisation and how can it help business owners?


Server Virtualisation has gotten a lot of press over the past few years, but like most new technologies, this 'IT gibberish' takes some translation for SME business owners and Enterprise boards to see the benefits.


Traditionally a business will run a different server for every one or two server roles. For example, a typical situation for a smaller SME would be to have one server running Microsoft Small Business Server, which gives the business file & print sharing, an email server, and domain controller.

To this base they would then add another server for new roles. If they start running a database, this would be put on a new physical server. If they have staff logging in remotely to work, then a new physical Terminal Server would be used for staff to log into.


There are good reasons to have these different roles on different servers, such as:


The speed and effectiveness of each service can operate and be monitored independently.

• Some softwares don't play nicely together on the one Windows installation, so separating them leads to fewer problems and lower support costs.

• Some softwares will (by design) hog a lot of memory or processor, which can slow down other activities happening on the same server.

• If one application or server role fails, it can be worked on and repaired without having to bring down other critical business facilities. (For example, if the database server has a problem it can be worked on without interrupting email, file access, internet access, etc etc

However, the more physical servers you have, the more they cost to buy (capital cost), run (electricity & cooling), and maintain (maintenance and repairs).

With virtualisation, you can have multiple server environments running on a single physical server. In other words, you can have 3,4,5 or more installations of Windows, running on the same server box. Each installation works independently, but all share the one set of hardware. This reduces capital costs, running costs and maintenance costs.

The other big advantage is that virtualised server software can be moved around much more easily than non-virtualised software. So for example, moving virtual servers to different hardware is quick and easy. Part of your Disaster Recovery strategy could be to move your backed-up virtual servers to a local data centre, or even to restore them onto high-end PCs you buy immediately from a computer shop. And when it comes time to replace the server hardware, this is much easier when servers are virtualised.

Planning Virtualisation of Your Servers

Hardware Considerations


You should preferably purchase new server equipment with at least two dual or quad-core processors, good hard drive speed, and plenty of drive space. If you are going to run many server environments on one set of hardware, it needs to be good quality hardware. If you get this wrong you are going to limit your business growth, waste your moy for it.ney and force an early refresh.

 Here are some hardware considerations, but please contact us for a customised quote.

  • Get fast drives, with more space than you need. Buy 10k or 15k SAS drives for their speed and reliability.  Solid State drives if huge performance is needed, but only buy the best quality SSD drives or the lifespan wont be as good as SAS.
  • Don't skimp on RAM – this is the performance life blood of any server. Get a bit more RAM than your current need (at least 25% more) so that when you need a bit more in future, you can just allocate it without needing to touch the server hardware.
  • Buy the best and fastest warranty you can get. If the server HARDWARE fails in a big way then ALL of your servers will be down until it is fixed. Modern high quality server hardware rarely fails in a 5 year time period, but get a 2hr onsite response warranty for at least 3 years. All the good brands offer this.
  • Buy top quality brand-name equipment. It's generally only around 10% more than a cheap and cheerful 'white box' server, but is built to a much higher standard. The warranty is also based upon manufacturer support, not upon the support of the IT firm that sold the server to you, which means the warranty is worth the money you pay for it, beyond the relationship with your support provider.

 

With virtualisation you want to maximise the utilisation of your server hardware, but not overload the hardware. It is incredibly flexible and allows you to assign hardware resources dynamically.

If your new physical server was bought with 20GB of RAM, then we could initially allocate to one Windows server environment, 4GB of RAM (out of the 20GB physically installed), 100GB of drive space and one 'virtual processor'. Then we monitor performance of the server and then tweak up or down accordingly. Allocating another 1GB of RAM from the available 20GB pool is just a five minute change that doesn't require any physical changes to the server.


Software Considerations


You can use either Microsoft Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V (or the later Server 2012) or you can use VM Ware as a base for virtualisation. Both are very similar in functionality now (as at 2012). Hyper-V is generally cheaper to license (often free) and is a core technology for Microsoft now so it will be well supported for a long time. VM Ware has been in the market a lot longer and there are more engineers who know how to use it. At the top end of VM Ware products there are a few additional features not availble with Hyper-V, but that could change with any new release.

Ensure that the applications you use will work in a virtualised environment by asking the software creator. Its rare for something not to work, and when it doesnt its usually due to not supporting the latest version of Windows Server, not due to virtualisation.  Plan this section of your virtualization project carefully.


Transition Considerations


Have a transition plan for the virtualisation project. After installing the host operating system on the new server hardware, you should be able to transition each server role individually, to minimise any downtime to the organisation.


Plan any essential downtime carefully to minimise productivity impacts your business.
After each new virtual server is brought on line, monitor the server performance and hardware utilization and adjust if required before adding the next server role.


Example Virtualisation Result:

 
  Before Virtualisation After Virtualisation
Number of physical servers 4 1
Number of Operating Systems (Windows) 4 4
Approximate power usage 3500VA 1500VA
Maintenance / Support Estimate $2400 / month $900 / month

Talk to IT Leaders today about whether virtualisation can reduce your costs and improve your business.
Ph 1300 596 560