Making the Right Virtualization Choices

As CIOs grapple with balancing ever changing business needs and managing costs, there has been no greater help than virtualization. I know that the opportunity to consolidate one’s IT hardware not only lowers capital and power and cooling costs, but also provides opportunities to leverage on improved asset utilization, easier management control and benefit from faster delivery of IT services through increased flexibility. And with the push to move into the cloud (be it public, hybrid or a virtual private server), virtualization technologies have come into the fore.

These benefits have been extended from virtual servers to now entire data centers, covering operating systems, storage and networking. Virtualization has enabled a new generation of software defined datacenters with more efficiency and availability for the most demanding of workloads. It also provides more efficient and cost-effective disaster recovery with near zero downtime compared with legacy physical solutions. Destops have not been left behind, with Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and Desktops-as-a-Service (DaaS).

Who has embraced virtualization?

Just this month, Garner have announced that the worldwide market for x86 server virtualization is rapidly hitting maturity, with many organizations having server virtualization rates that exceed 75 percent. In terms of segments, spending by IT organizations with large budgets is approaching saturation, while a decline in usage through to at least 2017 is expected for smaller budget organizations.

This is because organizations are increasing their usage of “physicalization,” choosing to run servers without virtualization software, by taking advantage of software-defined infrastructure (SDI) and hyper converged integrated systems (HCIS). In my opinion, these new options are putting pressure on best-of-breed virtualization vendors to add more out-of-the-box functionality and provide a better experience and faster time-to-value.

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What comprises virtualization technologies?

The key component in virtualizing hardware is the hypervisor which sits between the physical and virtual systems, managing the physical system’s hardware resources so they are distributed efficiently among virtual machines (VMs). Also known as a virtual machine manager or virtual machine monitor, the hypervisor can be a software, firmware or hardware that enables you to create and manage virtual machines from a host machine. If this was a technology discussion, it would be easy to choose. But I have realized that choosing the right hypervisor is a discussion that spans IT to business and beyond.

The market leader is obviously VMware with their ESX and ESXi solutions capturing majority of the virtualization market. They are followed by Microsoft with the Hyper-V supporting Windows Server installations, and then other niche players like Citrix with its Xen, Oracle, Red Hat with its KVM and Odin. And don’t forget OpenStack who are carving out a niche in the cloud services industry as an Open Source Cloud Computing platform.

Costs in virtualization choices

Consider first the total cost of ownership. Many an organization will look at total cost of ownership as a key driver in making IT investment decisions. And this is not an easy choice when it comes to virtualization. On the one hand you have the entry level solutions that are practically free, while on the other hand there are those that come at a significant premium.

Based on your needs, I believe you have to find a balance so that you don’t spend too much on a hypervisor that is supporting only basic services in your organization. It is important to consider the additional costs that come with management and guest OS licensing. Plus of course there is the adage that if you are using Microsoft enterprise solutions, then you are better off taking advantage of their Hyper-V offerings.

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Technology in virtualization choices

In terms of technology, the first premise used to be whether you choose a Type 1 (bare metal) hypervisor that runs off the hardware, or a Type 2 hypervisor that runs off the OS. The choice here is whether performance is key (go for the former) or simplicity and ease of use (go for the latter). Other important considerations will include ability to manage virtualization environments from multiple vendors, interoperability and overhead introduced to the servers. However, most vendors in this space seem to have similar offerings so getting all the right requirements is not difficult, especially for the leading vendors.

The latest focus areas in virtualization are SDN (Software-Defined Networking) and NFV (Network Functions Virtualization) which challenge legacy deployment and operational models. With the drive to cloud services, traditional network technologies can no longer support the dynamism required by today’s business in terms of agility and speed-to-market. SDN and NFV are touted to provide solutions for the new network paradigm driven by cloud, big data and BYOD, while also delivering cost savings from a network infrastructure basis. While vendor integration and pricing models are the main challenges getting these technologies into the mainstream lane, I believe that in the next two years we will see commercial deployments become a reality.

Challenges with virtualization

Capacity management remains one big challenge with virtualization and an IT organization needs to have its processes well aligned to ensure that proper utilization of available resources by limiting VM Sprawl. Back up is also another issue, since no physical hard drives are used therefore new backup and recovery software solutions have to be invested in and managed.

Other concerns include security, storage, monitoring and skills. These are just a few of what any IT organization, large or small, that has embraced virtual server hosting has to deal with. It is important to ensure that the right support and capabilities are in place to support your organization to deal with these hurdles and obtain full value from virtualization.

Making the right choice

Why don’t you reach out to NIC for guidance? With over 132 years of collective team experience under NIC’s roof, we have the expertise to guide you in making the transition from a static environment of an in-house server to an evolving environment where we take care of the maintenance and upgrades while you continue to concentrate on running your business. Contact us today to find out how as a managed service provider, NIC can make your virtualization endeavors as hassle free as possible.

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