In default mode, a server will only function at a fraction of its available capacity leaving computer processing, memory, storage and networking resources redundant. Virtualization can put these expensive resources to work without significantly increased cost. The IT concept of virtualization is gaining in popularity. According to Gartner Research:
nearly 30% of all workloads running on x86 architecture servers are now running on virtual machines.
Server virtualization when implemented segments a single physical server into several virtual servers. In essence, this means installing multiple operating environments on the host server. The advantage of this approach is to facilitate the efficient running of an autonomous group of related applications. For example, a discrete group of Windows compatible applications will run in one server segment while a group of Linux compatible applications will run simultaneously in another segment and without conflict. Other operating environments including Macintosh and legacy systems can also be supported in this way.
Virtualization results in higher computing utilization but at the cost of increased performance overhead. This overhead can be offset by using tools that are commonly available in virtualization software. The computing capacity of the hardware can be increased by using multiprocessor or multi-core processor configurations.
Server virtualization should benefit most small, medium and large businesses. The main benefits of switching from a physical to a virtual environment include the following:
- Save on the electricity bill and reduce the carbon footprint.
- Minimise server sprawl by utilizing existing servers instead of simply adding to the server pool.
- Reduce the capital budget by increasing energy efficiency and purchasing less hardware.
- More efficient management of IT resources by deploying software patches and updates from a central location.
- Overall improvement to server performance by dynamically allocating processor and memory resources.
A number of companies produce server virtualization software that runs on the host server. This software conveniently hides the identity of individual servers, operating systems and processors from users while getting on with the complicated details of server resource sharing and load balancing.
- Microsoft Hyper-V is tightly integrated with Microsoft Windows Server 2008. It is used to administer and manage Windows server and application environments.
- VMware is operating system neutral and is particularly suited to any company who has a hybrid computing environment of Linux, Macintosh, Windows and legacy systems.
- Citrix XenServer is a low-cost alternative to Microsoft and VMware and comes with a number of free add-on features. This software is optimised to run on Linux and Windows environments and is commonly used in desktop application virtualization solutions.
Server Virtualization in Action
Server virtualization technology resulted in the following savings for healthcare providers:
- Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., saves $3,500 every time it implements a virtual server.
- Emory Healthcare in Atlanta annually spends about $400,000 on desktop replacement, compared to $1.2 million before its server virtualization initiative.
- The Oklahoma Arthritis Center in Edmond consolidated 15 physical servers to five, and saw a 30% performance gain for all virtualized applications.
Virtualization technology is agile and helps companies to adapt to rapidly changing market conditions. The ability to simulate and test new software and processes prior to deployment without interfering with existing products and processes is a significant technology advantage. There are downside risks because a virtual environment is much more complex than a physical one. This makes it more difficult for system administrators to conceptualize and solve problems. Providing system administrators with effective tools to solve these problems will minimise this risk. Based on current technology trends, companies are switching to virtual servers to reduce total cost of ownership (TCO). Multiple application suites coexisting peacefully on a single server in preference to a single application suite is the norm. In view of these benefits, the deployment of server virtualization will accelerate into the future.
Gartner Research. (2010, October 18). Results of the Forrester Wave: Virtualization Then & Now: Symposium 2009-2010.
SearchHealthIT.com (2010, October 25). How is server virtualization technology used in health care?.