A New Virtual Reality

08 July 2009

A typical virtual machine environment brings significantly reduced hardware, energy and space costs - virtual servers are reckoned to be 700-800% more efficient than a traditional server. As well as consolidation, virtualisation can help strengthen operational resilience and data security; expedite the provisioning and scaling of IT resources; enable the rapid deployment of applications; and streamline back-end administration. It also allows IT teams to focus more readily on added-value projects with the knowledge that they can still respond quickly to any fluctuating demand in computing resources.

Practical gains

The really good news is that the theory translates brilliantly into practice.

Top 10 law firm Irwin Mitchell recently adopted a server virtualisation strategy based on VMware ESX and NetApp Storage and according to Group IT and Operations Director, Richard Hodkinson, the benefits have been clear to see: "What’s been really impressive is that any one of these advantages would have been hugely impactful on their own. Collectively, they have introduced a whole new dimension and dynamic to the IT function, helping to transform delivery capability, development capacity and departmental cost-base."

Server consolidation – We have housed 143 virtual machines on 11 physical servers, allowing us to eliminate 132 physical servers from the data centre, plus associated hosting, power, cooling and maintenance costs.

Provisioning - On average we have saved 201 days of the provisioning cycle that would have been attributed to hardware lead times and 64 days of resource effort in racking and configuring the servers.

Testing/development – Suitable test environments often need to be created quickly, destroyed and then recreated. The ability to clone servers and data has vastly improved such cycles of development with the ability to create such services in a fraction of the time usually required.

Business continuity – Virtualisation in conjunction with NetApp storage has drastically simplified our testing arrangements such that it will become possible to conduct tests on a more frequent basis. A recent DR test was done using virtual data (cloned), on virtual servers, on a virtual network and represented a fraction of the effort normally associated with replicating systems.

Green issues - The adoption of virtualisation has reduced our energy requirements at the data centre in terms of both power and air conditioning demands. In addition, fewer server requirements also result in less packaging waste, shipping costs etc.”

Kicking tin into touch

But typical virtualisation projects still call for protagonists to ‘think and touch tin’ – to justify, fund, configure, house, power and manage the necessary (albeit reduced volume of) hardware. But what if you could kick tin into the cloud? What if virtualisation was available to you in a virtual world, supplied by a very real third party expert in cloud-based services? What if you could have the servers you need exactly when you need them? To increase their numbers instantly? To give them back when you’re done with them. To get them back on-line urgently because circumstances have suddenly changed. In fact, to have an incredibly powerful, high availability server environment to call your own - without the pain of owning it.

Think of it as freedom – freedom to tailor your environment, freedom to control costs, freedom to focus on business priorities. The only thing you’re divesting yourself of is the responsibility for provisioning and powering, managing and monitoring hardware. You take charge of everything else: how many servers you want, their specification, the storage you’re going to require and the on-going state of your hosted resources, be that on-line, off-line, powered down or even deleted.

Moreover, think again of the benefits of virtualisation but this time as if they had been passed through a prism: intensified, concentrated, startlingly bright and clearly compelling.

Hardware costs are reduced to zero as you no longer need your own servers to run your virtual machine(s); gone too is the money spent on housing, powering, maintaining and refreshing it. In terms of accelerating the availability of IT resources, cloud-based virtual servers can be brought on-line via the UK’s only self-provisioning portal – no need for your next virtualisation project to be held up any longer than necessary. We know that virtual servers are ideal for high-availability applications because they are not tied to a single piece of hardware that is subject to failure. But if the location of your in-house virtual servers suddenly experiences a catastrophic event, what then? Maintaining access to those business-critical applications during a disaster scenario is often the difference between a business standing or falling. Put your virtual servers in the cloud and you take redundancy and resilience to a whole new level, leaving you free to focus on your business while your provider deals with continuity of service. As for virtual servers being a more flexible option when it comes to coping with fluctuating demand, again consider how much more flexible it is never to have to worry about your host hardware, but to just tap into someone else’s capacity in the cloud. And what capacity: ultra-scalable, ultra-available, ultra-reliable, and all of it on-demand.