Virtualization checklist for SMBs

There are countless small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs) out there looking at virtualization and feeling overwhelmed by the possibilities and challenges of deploying such solutions. 

Is virtualization within reach for SMBs?  Is it cost-effective?  Are there SMB-specific tools, strategies and methods?  All of these questions can hinder an SMB’s adoption of virtualization technologies.  And one question in particular can halt an SMB’s pursuit of a worthwhile investment: Do we even need virtualization?

For starters, SMBs should at least consider virtualization: not only does it provide a flexible infrastructure that will position companies for growth in a predictable way, it also reduces risk and cost while providing higher value and a greater return on investment.

The benefits of virtualization – for any company – are proven and well known.  They include less complicated management and maintenance, higher availability, better disaster recovery capability and cost reduction through efficiency.  These benefits are uncontested.  However, there are some challenges in virtualization adoption that specifically affect SMBs.  As smaller companies consider moving from physical environments to virtual ones, they need to keep the following issues in mind:

  1. Slowdowns are amplified in the virtual environment – Storage disruptions and slowdowns are far more crippling in the virtual world. Any bottlenecks or single points of failure in a centralized SAN ripple across the entire set of interconnected servers and potentially hundreds of virtual servers and thousands of desktops.
  2. Shared storage is a requirement of virtualization – Before virtual servers and desktops can freely move between different hardware platforms, they must have common access to shared storage. They rely on shared storage to transfer the running state of workloads between physical servers. This is generally accomplished by replacing direct-attached disks with storage area networks (SANs) that interconnect to multiple servers.
  3. The best laid plans sometimes cost more than expected – Be prepared for unforeseen project costs.  When organizations launch server or desktop virtualization projects, they are often surprised to find that there is a significant upfront investment required in project management costs and in building the required shared storage infrastructure. Often, these additional costs stem from the higher availability and performance requirements of centralized operations, particularly when they entail replacing existing, direct-attach disks with new, high-end storage devices and separately-priced SAN features.

Despite these potential drawbacks, the benefits of virtualization to the SMB are great.  Well-informed organizations will have successful deployments that improve processes and save resources.  Below are six tenets for choosing virtualization solutions with the greatest benefits to the SMB.

  1. Choose a solution specifically designed for SMBs: Avoid having to set up modular virtualization solutions, since this will require the integration of many new technologies into the IT infrastructure. Those technologies are often designed for large datacenters and are simply overkill for a smaller organization’s needs.  
  2. Cost of acquisition should not be the sole – or even the first — consideration: Building a virtualization solution by assembling low-end equipment only creates a complex infrastructure that is still too expensive and not scalable. 
  3. SMBs need fully integrated, scalable solutions: Go with a virtualization solution that does not require any hardware other than standard servers and one based on the same operating system family as the virtualized servers.  The solution should also allow companies to start small and scale easily as the organization grows
  4. Pick a solution that won’t overtax your staff: The ideal solution for SMBs is quick to set up, easy to maintain, minimizes the number of heterogeneous, multi-vendor software and hardware required and does not necessitate a parallel environment to manage it.
  5. Whenever possible, remove shared storage-related dependencies:  Repurposing existing hardware can save SMBs a large portion of their virtualization budgets. Storage virtualization software that lets you construct virtual SANs using internal disks in each physical server is an efficient and cost-effective solution.
  6. Insist on high availability: SMBs need to address the risk of data loss by looking at solutions that provide continuous real-time replication to ensure data is available at all times, regardless of the type of failure.

Virtualization is for everyone, but not every virtualization solution benefits every business.  SMBs eager to capture the benefits of virtualization should pursue that goal, but with as much information as possible. Virtualization solutions designed for the SMB exist; it’s just a matter of finding the right vendor who understands the business needs of the SMB and offers a solution right for that type of environment.  SMBs that know what they want and what they need are much better aligned for successful virtualization deployments.

Eric Courville is the COO and co-founder of VM6 Software.  He brings more than 18 years of successful experience in sales, marketing and business development and a solid track record at improving top line growth. Prior to joining VM6, Eric was vice president of worldwide sales and business development at Embotics and PlateSpin.

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