Pros and cons of server virtualization

The technological world is quickly advancing toward virtualization. Many companies have seen the benefits and have left their physical servers behind to embark on what many people believe is the future of computing.

The question leaving many from switching, though, is deciding if server virtualization is right for you. There is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to virtualization, but you can become more educated on the benefits and drawbacks of server virtualization to decide what is best for your company.

Here, we’ll address the pros and cons and help you determine if it’s time to make the switch.

Server virtualization

First, let’s start off with the basics for those who aren’t sure they fully understand using the cloud in regard to servers.

Server virtualization is actually not as new as some people might think. It has by around for many years. The difference today is that server virtualization has increasingly gotten cheaper, easier to use, and the companies that provide the technology are offering more services.

Essentially, server virtualization is in the name: making the server virtual. A better way of understanding this is it partitions a physical server “into a number of small, virtual servers with the help of virtualization software.”

In these virtual servers, there is the possibility of running multiple operating system instances at the same time, greatly reducing the cost of buying individual servers.

If you run a larger organization, virtualizing your servers is typically a no-brainer. Most enterprise datacenters have a lot of servers that sit idly by in case the workload needs to be distributed to them.

Server virtualization, instead, augments your computing power by increasing the capacity of the physical machines you already have. So, now that you have a better understanding of server virtualization, find out the pros and cons to determine if it is right for you and your business.

Pros of server virtualization

  • Reduced costs

when-is-it-time-for-server-virtualizationThis is, undoubtedly, one of the largest factors considered when determining if a company should switch to virtualized servers. The cost savings come into play in more than just buying specific hardware.

Julia Lee from VMware says that the cost savings stem from three main categories: capital expenditure savings, operational expenditure savings, and energy savings. The capital expenditure savings are those that you think of first.

This cost is lowered because the company does not need to buy so many physical servers or related resources for an equal amount of computing power and scalability found by using virtualized servers.

Datacenter and energy-efficiency savings are very helpful over time, but less seriously considered than the other ways of cutting costs with virtualization. Essentially, your IT costs become lower because virtualization allows for lower energy consumption, cooling power, and datacenter square footage.

  • Automation

Operational expenditure savings draws on the fact that with virtualized servers, many operations can be automated. This reduces the number of IT professionals who need to spend time on services that can be completed by the virtualization technology. The process of something simple like an OS patch becomes more regulated and requires less time. Here, then, you save time by automating more services and lower your costs because you need fewer IT pros.

  • Backup and recovery

Almost every virtualization software has features that help with backup and recovery. Problems and disasters are guaranteed to strike at some point. This could include everything from cyberattacks to power outages.

With virtualization software, especially if you have a package that includes snapshots, you’re more likely to have a simple and quick way to recover this lost or damaged information.

Data hosting company NetSource points out that “you can have one virtual server fail and it will come up instantly on another machine.” The company further  explains that “It can be argued that the consolidation of all these elements into a single package keeps human error down, software costs down, and server uptime higher.”

Cons of server virtualization

  • High upfront costs

virtualization-illustratedWhile we’ve discussed how virtualization can greatly reduce costs overall, it is important to also consider that virtualization sometimes takes a higher upfront cost.

David Boone, CEO of network security company Paranet, told Business News Daily that this is because “servers that can be effectively turned into virtual servers cost more than more-conventional servers.” If you consider the costs over a long period of time, though, virtualization almost always wins out over physical server costs.

But, of course, you will have to pay for more than just the cost of the physical server. When considering if you should switch to virtualization, you need to understand the cost of licensing, too. The software cost has been steadily decreasing as more competition is introduced into the arena, but the overall cost for you may still be high.

One of the benefits is that most virtualization software is highly scalable, so you can pay more as you need more virtual servers and less when you don’t need as many. Figuring out if the cost savings outweigh the expenditures is specific for each business. While server virtualization is typically a better cost option, put pen to paper and understand this for yourself.

  • Security

This one could be a pro or con, depending on whom you ask. While a universal security model in a virtualized environment makes it easier, generally, to manage security, the virtual server might be on the same physical server as another company and that could open you up to risks.

It’s important to learn about your provider and how they are protecting your data, specifically. NetSource says you should ask yourself a few questions, including, do you have limitations on how you can implement security on the cloud? Also, ask yourself if your server is PCI complaint where it is and would it qualify for HIPAA compliance.

When you are thinking about migrating to virtualization, it’s crucial to check out each potential company and see how they handle security.

  • Time spent learning

Server virtualization might be worth it, but nobody ever said that it was easy. Those IT professionals who feel completely confident in their ability to manage and understand physical servers need some time to fully grasp how to work a virtualized one.

It takes a bit of using the software to understand how the new environment works, and you should realize that not all applications can function well in a virtualized environment.

Some things that seem very simple, like deploying a virtualized server, might actually turn out to be a negative aspect for an IT professional who doesn’t fully understand it. There is the possibility that the inexperienced person might accidentally add more servers than are needed and waste essential space and energy, referred to as “server sprawl.”

While the IT staff will need time to understand server virtualization, it could save them and their company ample time and money in the future.

Photo credit: Torkild Retvedt / Flickr


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