From the Aug. 2009 Issue
If you haven’t heard by now, consider this article your notice that virtualization is coming your way. I strongly believe that all firms from smallest to largest will be running virtualization in some form within five years. It is the cheapest, easiest and most reliable way to run applications. We expect firms of all sizes to run virtualization because some of you will use virtualization on your servers, some will use it on your desktops, and some of you will use the new Windows XP virtualization feature in Windows 7. The most progressive of you will use all of these types of virtualization. You may believe that you won’t run virtualized if you are using cloud computing or Software as a Service (SaaS), but many of these applications are virtualized, as well, and the virtualization is completely transparent to you.
WHAT IS VIRTUALIZATION?
Virtualization uses a piece of software called a virtual operating system to allow you to run one or more other operating systems on the same machine. The key advantages for virtualization include the following: a reduction of installation time and expense, more reliability while running applications, almost all applications run faster when they are virtualized because of efficiencies in the virtual operating systems, portability of applications from one machine to another and much easier business continuity/disaster recovery.
The economics for small shops are obvious since the virtual operation systems are often free, with the supplying vendor hoping that you will upgrade to the larger version that is sold. For firms with fewer than 25 to 30 people, you will probably continue to use the free versions. When you are larger, you will probably be attracted to the speed and high availability of the more sophisticated enterprise-level of virtualization. On the desktop, virtualization is useful for application compatibility, speed, minimizing the setup time on new computers, and driving down costs of supporting desktops and laptops.
VIRTUALIZATION FOR BOTH SERVERS & DESKTOPS
First, let’s make sure you understand the two major types of virtualization: server virtualization and desktop virtualization (which will be discussed in the next section). Server virtualization has been around since the 1960s and has been working on personal computers since the 1990s. This is not new technology, and it has become popular because it is so cost effective and easy. There are literally dozens of solutions or options for virtualizing servers. The most popular options for servers are VMware, Citrix XenServer and Microsoft HyperV.
For small firms, we recommend the free version of VMware ESX. This product can be installed on the server, and then the operating systems and applications of your choice can be added. A popular installation would be to install the free ESX, along with Small Business Server and Microsoft Terminal Server for remote access on the same machine. For most firms, this approach saves the entire cost of purchasing a second server to enable remote access. The server virtual machines are disk files that can be copied to a desktop machine that also has the free version of VMware ESX installed so you can continue to run your servers in the event of major hardware failure.
Alternatively, you can install a NetRescue appliance (www.nmgi.com/netrescue) to do all of your backups and host your virtual servers in the event of a failure. Using this strategy on your servers, you should never be down more than 15 minutes, and should never lose more than 15 minutes worth of data. An additional benefit of using the NetRescue appliance is that your virtual servers can be automatically backed up off-site every night.