I was talking to a client the other day about server virtualisation and how it could help their business. When I explained the business benefits he replied “that sounds great but what actually is virtualisation?” So, we sat down and I explained how it works in laymen’s terms – I thought it would be helpful to explain it here.
In short, virtualisation uses software to create virtual (rather than actual, physical) versions of an operating system (e.g. Windows Server, Linux), a server (a complete server running an operating system and application software), a storage device (like a network attached storage device) or network resource.
The most common type of virtualisation is operating system or server virtualisation. This is where we take one physical server hardware and run multiple operating systems at the same time. You can have a Microsoft Windows server running Microsoft Exchange for email, another to run a SQL database and application software and yet another to run a Linux server for web-based applications – the list goes on.
This actually isn’t a new concept. It has been used on mainframe computers for many years – allowing the IT department to avoid wasting expensive processing power. The processor, memory, disk, networking resources (well, everything really) on the physical server is shared between the virtual servers to make optimum use of the hardware you have invested in.
The main benefits of this technology are less physical hardware, less energy consumption and less maintenance. Couple this with modern virtual server replication techniques and you start to get a very robust IT environment indeed.
You can also install virtual servers at datacentres or “in the cloud”. You can have all of your servers installed in a datacentre or choose to have some installed at your offices and others at the datacentre. This allows you to place the resources your business needs where it most makes sense. For example you may wish your accounting application to be installed at your offices where it will be accessed most and any customer facing servers such as web portals for clients to be installed in the datacentre, therefor taking advantage of the very high speed internet connection available in that datacentre. You can also replicate servers or data between on-site servers and datacentre servers – giving you an off-site copy of your servers available in the event of a disaster at your offices.
As with everything to do with IT, implementations can be very simple or very complex depending on your business requirements so it is always worth consulting a professional organisation such as ours before you dive in. It is however well worth taking a look at virtualisation for your business – it may give you the flexibility you need to successfully grow your business.