The Benefits of Virtualization for Small Businesses
Small companies running business server applications on several computers can take advantage of virtualization and consolidate the running of backend software into one or two modern, reliable and fast computers.
Virtualization first found its niche in big data centers but as this article will show, managers of small business should take an interest in virtualization because of proven benefits including savings on hardware, electricity, and administration costs.
In a small business, a typical office might have one or more servers doing the following jobs.
- An old desktop PC that serves as a print server
- A possibly newer PC running QuickBooks
- One PC as file or intranet server
- Another PC as web server
- A really old PC that is kept running because the software running inside it will not work on newer hardware
Each computer is paired with a UPS to safeguard against power fluctuations and outages. Each PC will have its own monitor and keyboard. Maintaining several PCs is not difficult especially if these are contemporary machines. However, it may be tricky to keep older PCs running especially when parts like memory, compatible hard drives and video cards are hard to find.
Virtualization divides a computer’s resources into several execution environments such that through machine simulation and emulation, multiple operating systems are allowed to execute on one machine. Each operating system instance is a virtual machine complete with virtual hardware and storage. It is possible to create a virtual machines with hardware not found on the host computers.
Virtualization is highly feasible now because today’s fast and modern machines are more than capable of running legacy applications. It becomes a very attractive option when such legacy applications are run intermittently and do not consume much computer time.
Small businesses can purchase one or two modern computers and use virtualization to recreate their IT infrastructure. In our example above, we can have one virtual machine acting as a print and file server. We can create a virtual machine with the specs of a 10 year old computer for running old but indispensible software.
Like magic, the problem of maintaining old computers with hard to find parts disappears. The virtual machines, even though they emulate 10 year old computers, are running on modern, fast and reliable hardware. Ancillary computer equipment is also reduced – fewer cables, monitors, UPS and keyboards.
Virtualization is a result of software running in your computer. Virtualization software is available in commercial and free or open source editions. VMWare is one of the more famous companies selling commercial virtualization products for servers. VMWare also made the freely available VMWare Server which is perfectly adequate for the needs of small businesses.
You can run vCenter Converter to convert your old computers into virtual machines. What vCenter Converter does is to take a snapshot of your computer and save it as an image file. This file can be copied into computers running virtualization software. When you open this file using the virtualization software, you will see a copy of one of your machines. The same image file can serve as a backup or historical snapshot of your actual computers.
A best practice when practicing virtualization is to store the files that represent virtual machines in separate hard drives. Some even recommend storing virtual machine information in external hard drives so that in event of computer failure, one can simply plug the disks into another computer and recover from the downtime in a matter of minutes.
It might be good to anticipate licensing issues when migrating your existing IT infrastructure into virtual machines. Some OEM software have licenses that are tied to the original machine and installation keys might not work. Microsoft Windows that are running in virtual machines might need reactivation and possibly a call or email to Microsoft.