The opportunity exists to virtualise anything in a small business, from the server to the desktop and storage, to the network and the applications that run over it. Some warn, however, that the return on investment must be thoroughly investigated before embarking on any sort of virtualisation. Below are some of the opportunities highlighted by those interviewed by The Channel.
Opinions differed as to how many servers are required to make server virtualisation worthwhile. The general consensus seemed to be approximately three, but, as Microsoft’s Tovia Va’aelua, Marketing Manager – Windows Server and Core Infrastructure, puts it, “there’s no real hard and fast number”. Some small start-ups with only one server will use it to run virtual instances with different applications on them, or even a disaster recovery option.
Jeff Healey, BladeSystem Business Manager for HP South Pacific, says it’s much more dependent on the companies’ applications’ requirements than the number of servers, because different applications may require different operating systems; to accommodate this you can either buy more servers or use virtual machines on your existing hardware. And, of course, one of the major appeals of virtualisation is the easy growth path it provides for small businesses with plans to expand.
There was some discussion as to whether blade servers were necessary in a small business environment, virtualised or nonvirtualised. VMware’s King suggests that although you can virtualise blade servers, they are probably not as necessary for small businesses, which would generally “just have a ‘white box’”.
HP’s Healey, however, sees “a natural affinity between virtualisation and blade” because the modularity of the blade matches the concept of virtual machines (blades and virtual machines both pool and share resources). Although there are small blade chassis on the market, Healey says if you want to go down the blade server route “you really need to do your sums of what the break-even point is”. For some small businesses it could be better to virtualise and for others to use unvirtualised blade servers.
Alternatively, Morris of NetApp sees blade servers as “very efficient ways of introducing virtualisation in terms of power consumption and their integrated network switches”. IBM’s Jaron Burbidge, Territory Manager, Blade Centre and System X, is of a similar opinion and sees the implementation of blade servers as a far less expensive way of moving to virtualisation than is the case with other rack servers.
“In addition to the reduced complexity and cost that customers gain from virtualisation, blade chassis offer an internal SAS-based storage area network (SAN), which means they won’t need external SAN storage devices and the attendant cables, switches, PDUs, rack space, etc.”
There was some debate about the need to virtualise desktops in small businesses. Microsoft’s Va’aelua suggested there may not be a good enough return on investment for an organisation of 20 people or fewer.
However, Fred King, Director of the Partner Organisation for Australia and New Zealand for VMware, sees this type of desktop virtualisation as a good opportunity to reduce costs by virtualising the desktop client and giving users access to server-based applications, thus cutting capital expenditure costs by removing the need for sophisticated and powerful desktops.
Generally speaking, if you are planning to use server virtualisaton, then you will be looking at virtualising your clients’ storage too, as this further increases server optimisation.
NetApp’s Director of Partner Sales, Scott Morris suggests: “The opportunities may exist initially in consolidating and centralising a customer’s storage to allow growth to occur outside the individual server or desktop. This can then be followed by managed network and server consolidations with virtualisation.”