Moving to virtual servers is a big step, and many Small and Mid-Sized Businesses (SMBs) are understandably hesitant to undergo this process until they are certain that it will be a benefit to the organisation.
Although server virtualization is a growing IT trend for SMBs, there are still a few key concerns that many managers want to address before they decide to invest in a server virtualization project. Major concerns include:
Lack of budget: According to a survey of SMB IT managers by VMWare, many managers say that they do not have sufficient budget to invest in server virtualization. When budgets are tight it can be difficult to justify any new investment – but it’s worth remembering that server virtualization is often the best fit when IT departments are in the process of upgrading or refreshing existing hardware. As long as the IT department is spending money, the money might as well be spent as efficiently as possible for the long-term.
Costs vs. ROI: Some managers are sceptical that they will see a return on their investment – servers are intangible assets, and "virtualizing” them only makes them seem more invisible. It’s important for managers to remember that existing physical servers are often performing well below capacity – meaning that the company is paying full price (and ongoing monthly maintenance) for IT assets that are only using 20% of their potential.
Costs of learning systems – training/re-training, changing role of IT department: It is true that server virtualization will require most SMBs to re-evaluate how their IT departments operate with regard to servers – but this is almost always a positive opportunity rather than strictly a new "cost.” Rather than getting bogged down in routine work and being marginalised within the company, the IT department has an opportunity to make higher-profile contributions to the organisation’s top strategic initiatives.
Lack of control/security: Martin Harris, director of product management at Platform Computing, has suggested that one issue that makes some SMBs reluctant to embrace virtualization is a perceived lack of control over the virtual systems. Companies often want to be assured of having a central control mechanism to ensure that they are getting the service levels that they need, and keep up the same level of control that they would have with in-house systems. According to research from Kuppinger Cole, "data sprawl” was rated as a top security issue by the IT professionals surveyed on their opinions about server virtualization. Many SMBs are concerned about how to prevent sensitive data from "creeping” into less secure virtual environments. Another finding of the Kuppinger Cole study was that a top concern of SMBs is that the "hypervisors” required to manage virtual servers will have excessive levels of privileges that could lead to mistakes or abuses. Server virtualization does introduce some new challenges related to control and information security, but fortunately, there is help available for all of these concerns – SMBs need to work with their vendors to ensure that they have the right programs and practices in place to deliver the desired level of control and security.
Impacts on other systems (e.g. shared storage): The "server storage gap” results from occasions where VMs serve up too many applications at once, creating excess demand for I/O intensive processes. Many companies find that they have 10 times more Operating System (OS) instances than they did before going virtual.
Migration of existing infrastructure to virtual: Migration of virtual machines (VMs) can be more complicated than most SMB managers realise. There are different tools and processes involved with converting physical servers to virtual servers, and it also depends on whether the migration is done manually or automatically. Manual migration can be tedious and prone to errors, so many SMBs choose to use migration tools to get their servers converted to the virtual environment. Successful server migrations require solid planning and a detailed understanding of the SMB’s existing infrastructure.
Testing of VM before going live: Testing the virtual environment is critical – this is how SMBs can gauge the capacity of their virtual servers and make sure their applications are suitable for virtualization. Testing is the only sure way to know whether an application will work properly in the virtual environment.
Uncertainty over which solution to adopt: Many SMBs do not have experience or in-house expertise regarding server virtualization, and are often uncertain about which package of server virtualization tools is right for them.
The above is an extract from the 2011 Server Virtualization Buyer’s Guide for Small and Medium Businesses. You can access this complimentary guide here.