Primus introduces managed virtualization service in Canada

It’s a Canadian first: server virtualization offered as a hosted monthly service by Primus Telecommunications Inc.

Targeted mainly at Canadian small and medium sized businesses (SMBs), the offering lets these firms benefit from big-business-style virtualization, without incurring the high costs of deploying and managing the technology themselves, says Primus.

It says the hosted offering – dubbed Virtual Managed Machines – will save customers hardware expenses, as well as associated IT expertise and operating costs.

Many smaller businesses, previously hesitant about rolling out costly virtualization systems, will benefit from this technology, according to Jeff Lorenz, vice-president of Primus Business Services at Primus Telecommunications Canada.

Lorenz said companies today are hesitant to make significant upfront capital investments on new technology, and seek to do more with less.

The Primus offering responds to this trend, he said.

Servers, the Primus Canada executive said, need to reside in a highly controlled environment.  He said SMBs availing of Primus’ hosted service will not have to worry about managing all that or about other issues such as “space, cooling, physical security or virtual security.”

Primus takes care of that and incurs the infrastructure cost, while customers purchase server resources.

In a virtualized environment, several virtual computers may run on one physical server, and resources shared across multiple systems.

Such a shared environment reduces the need for data centre space and decreases the environmental impact of server utilization, Lorenz said.

But while the environment is shared, the resources each customer purchases are available exclusively them.

That’s very different from the situation in smaller shared environments, where resources are often shared across all customers, Lorenz said. So if a breach or problem occurs, one customer could exhaust all of that environment’s resources, affecting other clients.  

In marked contrast, he said, the Primus service brings “enterprise-level infrastructure technology” to small business.

And offering the service on a monthly pay-as-you-go basis allows companies to buy resources as they need them, rather than try to forecast their capacity needs years in advance, he said.

This pay-as-you-go option – new to the virtualization scene in Canada – has been very popular in the U.S., says a Canadian analyst.

It’s the biggest benefit of such a service, according to Darin Stahl, lead analyst at London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group. “You could always go monthly with managed services, but they were typically grounded around the cost of having a giant machine.”   

Managed services are more attractive to small business owners, who may have limited IT knowledge, and often cannot afford the higher fees, Stahl said.

Because of this they could be missing the full protection, management and security that a commercial provider offers.

“By allowing SMBs to pay for what they use, you’re abstracting the whole business model for hardware, because you can run virtual machines on one piece of hardware and drive costs downward.”

Stahl said he’s worked with many small companies that are looking for functionality and agility, and don’t want to be in the hardware business.

Smaller firms are likely to be the first ones to opt for the Primus offering, he said.

Besides the cost factor, other benefits include greater consistency, resilience against blackouts or brownouts, improved patch management, and expertise based on aggregate learning across customers.

But there is one barrier that could impede adoption, the Info-Tech analyst said.

Traditional SMBs, he noted, usually have  the ‘IT guy’ — a consultant or advisor they’ve used over many years.

The challenge would be to bring this person on board. “If he’s inclined to be a ‘server hugger’ and not hiring services out, he may not gravitate toward this solution. It could hold back adoption for many SMBs.”

But at least one mid-sized Canadian firm doesn’t feel a need for such an offering.

Liburdi Engineering Ltd., a gas turbine engineering company based in Dundas, Ont. had deployed a virtualization system in-house a few years ago, purchasing one high-end server and dividing it into three virtual machines. 

The firm eventually upgraded to two high-end servers for eight virtual PCs. 

The original purchase saved the company between $10,000 and $20,000, reducing costs on licensing, space and energy, according to Bill Wallace, IT administrator at Liburdi Engineering.

Wallace said he would recommend virtualization to any SMB company looking to cut costs, but doesn’t see a reason for a managed offering.

“My first impression of a managed service is it’s like stealing candy from a baby. You’re asking a [firm] to pay for something that’s free. It goes against the whole movement of the industry — putting tools into the hands of technicians and administrators like myself for very little cost.”

Most companies are already virtualized in some way, the IT administrator noted, with adoption rates in the 90 per cent range for big business. “Familiarity levels should be high enough to manage your own server, free of charge.”

Virtualization, he says, is a fairly mature technology that most SMBs have probably already taken advantage of in some way.

As for himself, Wallace said he wouldn’t give Primus’ offering a second thought.

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