The Business Owner’s Guide to IT Virtualization

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Virtualization Support AtlantaThe main cost of any IT operation is the overhead required to purchase and maintain hardware; desktop computers, servers, and more take up space, sap power minute by minute, and are costly to repair and replace.

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That’s why virtualization, a new IT solution introduced in recent years, has so quickly gained popularity among CEOs, business owners, and managers. Virtualization has proven to be a revolutionary business technology that provides efficiencies and capabilities that simply aren’t possible when constraining an IT infrastructure to a physical setting.

What is virtualization?

Put simply, virtualization is the creation of a server, phone, application, or other IT system aspect in a virtual form, instead of actual physical hardware. In this fashion, a single facet of IT hardware can be used to create numerous virtual counterparts, which allows businesses to maximize their IT potential.

Primary advantages of virtualization:

  • Reduced Hardware: Instead of each IT system aspect working independently to fulfill its role, virtualization allows them to rely on a smaller number of servers to meet those requirements. This reduces the traditionally bloated desktops to “thin clients”, which have just what they need to operate, and get everything else from the server as need be.
  • Simple Scalability: Your virtual configuration can easily be changed to meet the needs of your staff and business as it grows and develops.
  • Enhanced Continuity: By hosting your IT systems in a digital space, your work is no longer limited to a physical device. Any human error or malfunction with a single device can be easily restored by a failsafe digital copy at a moment’s notice.
  • Reduced Costs: Virtualization removes the need for bulky, costly physical hardware (such as conventional desktop PCs), allowing you to save on the cost of storage and electricity for housing the equipment.
  • Increased Performance: Virtualized servers can make precise use of your available digital resources, ensuring that each user has precisely what they need, which will increase performance across your entire IT environment.
    Test Capability: Virtualization allows you to easily build out a self-contained lab or test environment on its own isolated network, which is ideal for testing new software and other technology without risking the rest of your infrastructure. Consider VMworld, at which VMware hosts one of the largest public virtual labs on the planet. While it’s definitely a larger test bed than a single business like yours would ever need, it’s a clear example of how cost prohibitive and difficult it would be to attempt with only physical servers.
  • Go Green: By reducing your physical hardware, you use far less energy for power and cooling needs, making your company an active participant in modern green initiatives.

Primary disadvantages of virtualization:

  • Single point of failure: The issue with creating multiple virtual machines from a single piece of hardware is that if that hardware fails, the entire configuration can be compromised. While you benefit from doing more with a smaller number of servers, it can create a domino effect that would topple an entire system when only a single component encounters an issue. This is why it’s vital to ensure proper contingency planning when choosing to use a virtualized IT environment.
  • More powerful hardware needed: Reducing your number of servers means the ones that you keep have to be powerful enough to handle the total needs of your virtual IT systems.
  • Complexity: Virtualization increases complexity at each point in your IT infrastructure, which can make it difficult to troubleshoot issues as easily as in a conventional system. Management and troubleshooting will require effective automation.
  • Third-party support issues: Virtualization can limit your choice of software and hardware vendors as some are unable or unwilling to run their products in virtual environments. As such, it’s important to work with your current vendors when considering migrating to a virtual IT environment.

The key to achieving the benefits and avoiding the disadvantage of virtualization is to ensure you have the right support on your side. A Managed Services Provider (MSP) can do a lot to help you determine how virtualization should be deployed at your business. With their expertise, they can answer your questions, make recommendations, work with vendors on your behalf, and more.

When should you transition to a virtual IT environment?

  • Tech Refresh: An ideal time to consider upgrading to a virtualized environment for your business is during your next technology refresh. As your servers and desktops reach the end of their life and require replacement, you’ll have the perfect opportunity to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of virtualizing your IT systems.
  • Change in Scale: As your business changes in size — whether you’re adding a new location, consolidating into a main office, or otherwise — you’re given an ideal opportunity to consider new options in IT. Especially in the instance of an expansion, choosing to use existing hardware to virtualize your systems can greatly cut the cost that usually comes with growth. Instead of purchasing, installing, and maintaining the new hardware that would be necessary to support an additional location and staff, you can go virtual to get more out of your existing IT assets.
  • Strategic Advantage: The many benefits of virtualization can be reason enough to make the change. Even if it isn’t time to refresh or expand, the efficiency and cost savings that can be achieved with a virtual IT environment can help businesses gain a valuable advantage over their competition.

That said, it will never be this simple. As the head of your business, it’s unlikely you’ll have the luxury of focusing specifically on your IT when it comes time for a tech refresh or office relocation. Don’t rush to make a decision when it comes to something as complex as virtualization; a consultation with an expert IT provider can do a lot to simplify the process.

Models of Virtualization

On-Premise Virtualization

This model of virtualization is the most traditional style. The virtualized systems are hosted on-site at a business’ own data center and are managed by the in-house IT department.

The primary benefit of this virtualization setting is that it provides businesses with total control over the management of their virtual IT systems. However, the reality is that on-site virtualization tends to cost much more than the alternatives, as you have to pay for the storage, power, maintenance, and other ongoing costs that come with hosting your own systems. That’s why on-premise virtualization tends to be more popular with larger businesses, as they have the means to pay for it, as well as a comprehensive in-house IT department to ensure that their virtual systems remain functional.

Cloud-Based Virtualization

In this setting, IT resources are hosted by a provider and accessed by your staff online through a private cloud. Unlike on-premise virtualization, this configuration doesn’t require you to have your own data center or internal IT staff.

The primary benefit of this model is how it cuts costs. All of the ongoing costs associated with on-premise virtualization are covered by the provider, with your business paying just a simple monthly flat rate to ensure functionality and ongoing support. However, as mentioned before, by outsourcing your virtual systems, you lose the first-hand control that most larger businesses prefer to maintain.

Hybrid

This model of server virtualization allows businesses to choose a custom configuration that combines features of on-site data center hosting and off-site cloud-hosted services. This model is ideal for providing different resources to different parts of a business. For example, hybrid virtualization would allow you to provide locally-deployed servers (hosted on-premise) for local office staff, as well as hosted cloud services for staff members that work remotely and need access to company data.

Types of Virtualization

  • Server Virtualization: As the most common method, server virtualization consolidates your physical servers into the minimum requisite number, and creates the rest virtually. The server admin can then allocate server resources to different users in your business as need be.
  • Desktop Virtualization: This type is available in two different fashions.
    • Desktop As A Service (DaaS) – This approach outsources virtual desktops to a cloud service provider off-site. As an externally hosted solution, DaaS has many of the benefits of outsourced services, in that it will require less attention and work from you and your internal staff.
    • Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) – This approach hosts your desktop operating system in a virtual machine that runs on a centralized server, typically located on-site. As with the particulars of on-site and outsourced options above, an on-site solution like VDI is more expensive and requires more effort from your internal IT staff.
  • Storage Virtualization: This type pools your physical data storage from multiple network devices into a single device that is managed from a central console. The primary benefit is that your applications are no longer dependent on the specific storage sources their data is stored on. All storage is identified, provisioned, and managed collectively.
  • VoIP: Like other types of virtualization, a virtual VoIP solution is beneficial because it reduces waste of call manager resources on your VoIP server. Instead of dedicating a server for your business’ VoIP (and leaving it to do nothing in between calls), your virtualized VoIP server is only used (and only uses server resources) when needed.

Methods of Virtualization

In addition to the way you host your virtual environment, it’s also important to consider the method by which you virtualize your servers, desktops, and applications.

  • 1:1: This is the process of moving the entirety of an organization’s physical environment to a virtual environment without consolidating virtual machines, which puts the ratio of applications to servers at 1:1. While it has some of the benefits of an entirely virtual IT environment — such as easy automation of tasks, and simple restoration of virtual machines for disaster recovery — 1:1 virtualization doesn’t come with all the available benefits. This method is suited to businesses that want to gradually move into a virtual environment, without taking on the expense of a totally consolidated migration.
  • Consolidation: This is the method by which a business combines and reduces their available servers, maximizing their potential by utilizing each piece of hardware to virtualize as many servers, desktops, and applications as possible. This results in an optimal use of the IT resources available, achieving a greater return on investment, and increased efficiency. While consolidation provides all of the previously mentioned benefits of virtualization, it should be noted that it is the most expensive and complicated to implement for businesses that have not already begun the process (through 1:1 methodology or otherwise).

From methods to models to types, there are a lot of moving parts when it comes to considering virtualization. If you’re not entirely confident that you can keep them all in mind, don’t hesitate to consult with a knowledgeable IT provider. Expert advice can make the difference between a seamless upgrade and a costly, protracted migration.

Cost Savings: CapEx or OpEx?

A key factor in weighing the benefits of virtualization for your business is the way in which you can budget the expenses. Many of the upfront costs of implementing an on-premise data center with virtual systems are budgeted as Capital Expenses (CapEx), which are invested upfront and only see a gradual return over time. Comparatively, cloud-based virtualization that you outsource to a provider is an Operating Expense (OpEx), which is much more easily budgeted because it gains a measurable return month by month as you pay for it.

However, it’s also important to note that, beyond being an OpEx, on-premise virtualization has further cost-saving benefits. As reported by virtualization industry leaders VMware, more than 70% of organizations show that virtualization has helped them achieve “real, measurable cost savings.” While there is direct evidence of CapEx reduction when hosted on-premise, virtualization also allows for significant savings in OpEx as well:

  • Fewer Service Failures: Issues can be resolved much faster, which eliminates a great deal of costly and unproductive downtime.
  • Increased Efficiency: In allowing a single administrator to manage a far greater number of servers, virtualization increases administrator efficiency, which greatly reduces annual management costs.
  • Increased Speed of Service Deployment: New systems could be deployed much faster, which cuts the costs of deployment while reducing downtime.
  • Decreased Costs: Virtualization allows businesses to reduce floor space, rent costs, and power consumption, resulting in greater overall savings.

When should you go virtual? 

The first step in ensuring that a virtual IT environment will enable your company to become more efficient and reduce costs is to analyze your current IT systems. This means identifying the kinds of applications you run, their function and purpose to your business goals, and more.

Without an intimate understanding of your IT and how it helps your business, determining if virtualization is right for you can be extremely difficult. Consider the following aspects of your IT environment:

  • Which physical servers are installed?
  • How do they utilize resources?
  • Which applications and data reside on which server?

A clear way to address these questions is to develop an IT assessment checklist. By creating a detailed list of your current inventory of physical servers and which applications run on each of them, you can begin to get an idea of the size and scope of your existing hardware.

The next step is to understand the function and nature of these applications:

  • How are they used?
  • How are they vital to your company’s goals?
  • Does any one application depend on others to run?
  • What is the required availability of these applications?

By answering questions like these, you can gain an effective understanding of which applications can and should be virtualized, and which should not. This information will also help you determine the ratio at which to consolidate your servers. Remember, it cuts both ways: The more virtual machines that you consolidate to a single server, the fewer hosts you’ll need, but it will also make your environment more susceptible to a critical error.

A surefire way to determine if you’re ready to virtualize your IT environment is to consult with a professional. By utilizing the experience and expertise of a trusted IT support provider, you can easily mitigate the risks that come with planning your migration to a complex new IT setting.

Virtualization and Security

As with cloud technology in general, the convenience achieved by a virtual IT environment also comes with risks.

  • Controlling Access: While virtual systems will make for a more convenient end-user experience for your employees, it’s also important to carefully manage which employees have access to certain data and applications. The more virtual machines that connect back to a single physical asset, the greater the risk there is that it could be compromised. By enacting and following a comprehensive access control policy, you (and your MSP) can ensure that members of your business maintain access to the systems, files, and applications that they need to do their jobs.  However, it is also important to understand that virtualization is designed to allow conventional software (and malware) to perform the same as it would on a physical machine. In light of this, it’s crucial to employ malware scanners and other security measures on the user and main systems of the virtual environment to stop malware from getting from one system to another. 
  • Data Storage: Knowing where your data is stored is vitally important. Data centers, whether managed by your business or hosted by a third-party, need to have security and continuity measures that you can rely on. Digital security, such as firewalls, antivirus, and antispam measures are just as important as physical features, such as an uninterruptible power supply, 24/7 security, fully-enclosed cabinets with locking doors, and a redundant generator backup.
  • Liability: Just as liability is an issue for all outsourced services, it’s also something to consider when it comes to the cloud and virtualization. In general, MSPs will do their best to limit liability for any issue, such as a data breach. As per service level agreements (SLAs), liability will often be strictly defined prior to the start of service. In the end, as the client, your business will be liable for most issues, which means the onus is on you to ensure your provider offers an effective and reliable range of security and recovery measures for the data and systems that they host for you.

Business Continuity

IT-related emergencies can strike at any time whether it’s a malware attack, natural disaster, or human error. It’s vital to have a plan in place to make sure your business can continue to accomplish work, maintain compliance, and keep unproductive downtime at a minimum. Virtualization is a valuable part of any business continuity plan, as it allows for total restoration of your IT environment in the event of a disaster. Further business continuity benefits of virtualization include:

  • High Availability: By replicating and restoring systems as need be, virtualization can greatly limit the downtime that would normally come with an emergency situation. A virtual IT environment will allow you to eliminate planned downtime for common maintenance operations, and recovery quickly from operating system and server failures with automatic virtual machine restarts.
  • Disaster Recovery: Virtualization allows for comprehensive disaster recovery planning. In the event of a disaster, you can configure your virtual IT environment to deploy a private or public cloud for business use while your primary system is being restored.
  • Data Protection: Virtualization makes data protection a simple process. With regular and automated backups of your data — including operating systems, desktops, and applications –- recovering within your ideal time objectives becomes a straightforward process.

Virtualization Vendors

If you should choose to work with an MSP for your virtualization needs, be sure to find out who they partner with in providing virtualization services. Every provider has their own features, strengths, and vendor partnerships, so by asking the right questions, you can better determine which option is the right fit for your business’ needs. While there are plenty of virtualization service providers on the market (and more each year given the rising popularity of the technology), here are a few of the top providers worthy of consideration:

Hypervisor

  • VMware: VMware is by far the most ubiquitous provider of virtualization services worldwide. Their products are used and trusted by data centers all over the globe, which helps them maintain a major hold in the server, desktop-level, and free server virtualization markets. Their primary data center virtualization products include vCloud Suite, vSphere, Horizon 6, and more.
  • Microsoft: Microsoft’s Hyper-V virtualization tool is slowly gaining popularity in comparison to VMware’s suite of products. It’s a good fit for businesses that already use Microsoft products such as Office 365, Azure, and more, not to mention that it was the first non-Linux virtualization product to hit the market, making it more compatible with many businesses’ needs.
  • Citrix: Despite starting out as a small, independent business, Citrix now owns one of the most popular cloud vendor software products on the planet: Xen, which is used by major corporations including Amazon, Rackspace, Carpathia, and more.

Cloud

The cloud is an extremely popular service in today’s IT world, which means there are many vendors to choose from. Despite the relative novelty of cloud computing, it is beneficial to consider how long a vendor has been offering cloud services; even just a few years can make the difference between an experienced cloud vendor and an ordinary newcomer. Keep in mind that some will offer their services direct-to-consumer, whereas others will only work with an MSP.

  • Armor Defense: Previously known as FireHost, Armor Defense provides hosted cloud services that prioritize security above all else, which they achieve via a combination of their own digital security products and a staff of cyber security experts.
  • Cisco Systems: Already a popular name in other areas of IT, Cisco also offers hybrid cloud services that are deployed on-site at your business. With their unique Intercloud service, Cisco can connect public, private, and hybrid clouds for businesses as need be.
  • Amazon Web Services: This cloud solution comes with a range of tools and features for users, including in-depth analytics, enterprise designed services, capability for server and storage virtualization, and more.
  • Microsoft Azure: As Microsoft’s enterprise-grade hybrid cloud computing platform, Azure is perfect for businesses that already use many Microsoft products, such as SQL, Active Directory, and the .Net platform, among other applications.
  • Rackspace: As a managed cloud provider, Rackspace handles all the particulars of virtualization on your behalf, and offers uniquely designed solutions as opposed to “one-size-fits-all” public clouds.
  • US Signal: By managing their own collection of data centers across a massive fiber optic network, US Signal provides a range of cloud services, from hosting to colocation to storage and more.
  • OS33: This vendor provides virtual and cloud solutions in an “IT-as-a-Service” model, and like other providers, is only available through an MSP, and not direct-to-consumer.

VoIP

  • Momentum: By hosting your business telephony in their data center, Momentum provides a VoIP solution with minimal on-site hassle at your business. By outsourcing your business telephone systems, you’ll enjoy a service that can be easily modified and upgraded when necessary.
  • ShoreTel Sky: With 20+ years of experience in the field, ShoreTel provides a cloud-based softphone solution that features an easy to use singular platform and user interface.
  • 8×8: As a hallmark of their unified cloud communications service, 8×8 offers a “one-stop-shop” for VoIP that provides everything you need for business telephony through a single service.
  • Skype For Business: As Microsoft’s VoIP solution, Skype for Business provides simple compatibility with the company’s suite of business applications, and a familiar interface for those that are already used to Skype as consumers.
  • Vonage: VoIP solutions offered by Vonage come with 40+ calling features — including Dynamic Caller ID, Virtual Fax, voicemail transcription and more — hosted through the cloud and accessible both on your business’ desktops and mobile devices.
  • Cisco Systems: Cisco provides a simple and effective VoIP solution as a part of their “Unified Communications”, which consolidates all methods communication — including voice, data, and video — into a safe, cost-effective, and easily-managed service.

You’ve done your homework, and with the number of variables involved — methods of virtualization, types of virtualized hardware and services, vendors, security capability, etc. — you now know how complicated virtualization really is.

Even the most active and forward-thinking of IT managers and CTOs will have difficulty figuring out how to implement a virtual IT environment at their business. As the CEO, it’s your responsibility to ensure your business and its staff are set up for success in every new endeavor, including the next change you make to your IT. You can take the guesswork out of the process by finding an expert IT partner that will help you make the right calls for your business. 

How will Cohn Consulting Corporation help with virtualization?

Cohn Consulting Corporation wants to help you determine if virtualization is right for you. As an experienced provider of virtual IT solutions and support, you can trust us to find, develop, and implement a configuration that directly suits your business’ needs.

We can help you weigh the pros and cons of the many different available virtualization options in order to achieve the desired results, such as:

  • Reduction of hardware which saves money on the cost storage and electricity.
  • Consolidation of IT assets to improve efficiency and your return on investment.
  • Enhancement and simplification of business continuity.
  • Improvement of IT resource management.
  • Maintenance of optimal security for local and offsite data.

Choose Cohn Consulting Corporation as your partner in virtualization to ensure that you consider all your options, weigh out all the pros and cons, and make the best possible decision for your business’ future. You’ll enjoy a smooth, lossless migration to a brand new virtual IT environment, which will maximize your return on investment, provide a more convenient end-user experience for your employees, and boost efficiency throughout your business.

Don’t make the mistake of overseeing a major IT upgrade like this on your own. Contact Cohn Consulting Corporation today at (770) 225-0584 or info@cohnconsultingcorp.com for an expert consultation on how virtualization can help your business.

Alexssa

“Proactive response and handling of all issues. Cohn actually gets the value of building customer loyalty and satisfaction.”

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