For the sake of this article we are going to focus on the virtualization of a dedicated server using a software product. While some people may argue this isn’t a true cloud environment until some other factors are addressed, we will keep things simple here. Products that could be used to achieve virtualization might be VMWare, Virtuozzo, Xen/Citrix, Hyper-V, or any other flavor you might be comfortable using in a production environment. While each version has it’s own pros and cons, we will focus on the general idea of virtualization as a whole and what it can do for your business.
The obvious #1 reason to virtualize is to save money. This may be hardware, staff, or energy related savings. In a time when companies are cutting everything from paper to people, this is a very attractive technology that upper management is jumping on board with. A well thought out virtualization plan should result in lower equipment, power, management, and replacement hardware costs in theory. Many ask if this to good to be true? While nobody would argue that saving money is a good thing, is there a catch? We all agree that a $50,000 sports car and a $25,000 compact car are both cars. The performance of one is going to be better but also more expensive.
One of the main arguments for virtualization is the ease of managing the equipment and applications. Many of the virtualization products have advanced management tools that help you monitor and review information quicker across more servers. This can lead to smaller IT staffs, and less 3rd party software you have to learn. Less errors are likely when management is easier.
Most virtualization software comes with a number of features that may increase server up-time for your environment when used correctly. In theory you can have one virtual server fail and it will come up instantly on another machine. Virtual load balancing if much less expensive than dedicated load balancing. Many packages also come with their own data backup solutions (snapshots) to protect data. It can be argued that the consolidation of all these elements into a single package keeps human error down, software costs down, and server up-time higher.
Dedicated Servers: Hardware Complexity
When you have more items to manage the risk of making a mistake increases. Dedicated hosting solutions can become more complex due to their hardware separation. Sometimes you have completely different hardware performing the exact same tasks. So hardware management requires more time. You might also have to learn and manage additional technologies like a hardware load balancer. With virtualization, many of these items are build into the software package. One of the main advantages to virtualization is the universal management software that allow a network admin to monitor everything more easily. With dedicated hosting you have to design and implement your own management system.
Dedicated Servers: Mal-Utilization
Many dedicated servers are only using about 20% of there computing capacity. This is waste of resources and one of the main reasons companies are looking to virtualize. Trying to get the most out of your hardware is more difficult using a dedicated server environment.
This article wasn’t intended to push you in one direction or another. I think it is important to review all the facts before deciding if a virtual environment is better than dedicated hardware. Both choices share their own set of pros and cons and these should be reviewed by each individual company well in advance of implementing a change. In some cases the cost of change might be more than expected in both time and money. While other businesses might save millions and increase their service reliability through virtualization. Only you can determine what direction is best.