You’ve probably heard the term “virtualization,” but might not be fully versed in what it is and what it can mean for your business. When it comes down to it, virtualization is not all that hard to understand; you just need to know some basics about how it works. In this blog we’ll walk through the concepts involved, as well as the benefits that can be reaped from virtualizing your infrastructure.
Most business networks contain at least one fileserver, and often several. Fileservers are beefy computers that handle centralized applications, like accounting and CRM, and centralized services like printing and security. All fileservers, or simply “servers” require an operating system, or OS, like Windows or Unix to operate. Traditionally, there is one OS running on each physical server in a 1 to 1 relationship. Virtualization changes that. Instead of installing one server operating system on one physical server, virtualization allows multiple instances of an OS to run on a single physical machine. Essentially you get the use of many “virtual” fileservers running on only one physical computer.
This capability to run multiple versions of an OS on one machine is enabled by virtualization software like VMWare or Zenworks. The virtualizing operating system takes control of the hardware resources and shares them amongst several virtualized servers. It does this by creating “Virtual Hardware” for the servers that it’s hosting. As far as those servers are concerned (if a server could be concerned with such things), they’re sitting on their own hardware out on the network. However, in reality, they all reside on one physical computer and share its resources.
There are many benefits to this approach. As networks are required to do more and more, the network and server infrastructure that supports the necessary functionality also become more complex. This means more servers are required to keep things operating. One obvious benefit of virtualization is that multiple servers share one set of hardware leading to an obvious initial cost savings. Less hardware also results in decreased power costs (most physical servers cost upwards of $500 a year just in power consumption), decreased maintenance costs, simplified network infrastructure to tie it all together, and a reduction in additional costs should new servers need to be added to your network.
There are many additional benefits as well. For example, because each virtual server instance is very efficiently packaged in self-contained files they can be backed up and moved more easily than when an OS resides on a traditional physical server. Should the hardware fail, the files containing these servers can simply be moved to another virtual host. This eliminates a lot of the complexity and downtime associated with recovering from a non-virtualized environment. In addition, businesses can minimize costs for storage by using shared space, and maintain far better administrative control over the entire environment than would be possible with traditional physical servers.
So basically even though virtualization itself is in many ways relatively complex in theory, it’s really a measure of simplification in practice. It takes what once required a large amount of hardware and consolidates it into a much smaller physical footprint, makes it easier to back up and maintain, and provides greater bang for the buck from the hardware purchased.