Conjure Up Some Virtual Magic
used with permission from the Microsoft Small Business Center
Do you remember wondering as a kid how a magician could put one scarf in a hat and then pull out ten? And wishing you could do the same, maybe with a candy bar instead of a scarf? Well, magic might seem in short supply these days, but thanks to virtualization, your childhood wish just might be possible.
Okay, full disclosure: Virtualization won’t work on candy bars. But it can turn one server into many, and since servers cost a heck of a lot more than Snickers, that’s a pretty neat trick.
Consider those servers sitting in the backroom. Without virtualization, each of these physical boxes is functioning as a dedicated server, meaning it is dedicated to running a particular set of applications and “client devices” (that’s IT-speak for PCs and peripherals, like printers, fax machines, and scanners). With virtualization software, one physical server can become multiple “virtual” servers, each capable of independently handling its own set of applications, devices, and users.
You may be wondering, how is this possible? More likely, however, you are asking yourself, what’s in it for me? Here’s what: Virtualization can help save a Hyper-Va pile of money!
Consider this startling fact: At any given time, you are using only about 10% of the computing power of a dedicated server. However, that server is usually still consuming about 70% of its peak power requirements. It also means you’re not getting a very good return on your server investment. Think about it: Would you buy a delivery truck that was going to sit idling in your parking lot during 90% of the business day?
With virtualization, the server utilization rate zooms from about 10% to about 60-70%. That’s an enormous increase, and the resulting consolidation helps lower energy costs and a much more palatable ROI.
But the advantages of server virtualization extend much further. With a dedicated server, if the machine goes down, so do all the devices and business critical applications it runs. In a virtualized environment, other servers can pick up the load if one crashes. Here’s how: The virtualization software detects the imminent failure of a physical server and moves its applications — for example, Microsoft® Exchange for e-mail — to a different server. This means your devices and applications are virtually always running, so you won’t lose productivity and sales because of server crashes. And it means that critical data is always available to your employees, which is especially important if you have a mobile workforce.
Still need convincing that virtualization can help your business? Consider the impact it had on HotSchedules, an Austin, Texas-based small business that provides online labor-scheduling systems and workforce productivity tools for the restaurant and entertainment industries. This 25-person company provides restaurant managers with real-time access to staff schedules and employee scheduling preferences from any Internet-connected computer. With an annual growth of more than 100 percent, HotSchedules now hosts more than a quarter-million users and about 4 million individual user sessions a month.
To accommodate their growing user base, HotSchedules added more and more physical servers. But soon the company was running out of space to house all the hardware, and the power costs of running all those boxes was exploding — from $3,000 a month in 2003 to more than $11,000 a month by 2008.
The mushrooming data center costs were actually limiting the company’s ability to grow, notes Matt Woodings, Chief Technology Officer at HotSchedules. The company was quickly getting mired in issues of scalability. Potential customers, including large national chains, were wondering: Could a small business like HotSchedules meet the needs of all their restaurants?
Enter virtualization, in the form of Microsoft’s Hyper-V™, a virtualization feature of Windows Server 2008 R2. Woodings evaluated other virtualization solutions, including VMware’s ESX, but selected Hyper-V because of the familiarity of Microsoft technologies and the cost advantages of integrating the Microsoft software. Notes Woodings, with other solutions the “learning curve would have been very high…Hyper-V was a cost-effective solution with everything in place.” Working with Dell, their IT partner, HotSchedules implemented Hyper-V easily and made a smooth transition to the virtual world.
HotSchedules now hosts up to 19 virtual machines on each of its physical servers, positioning the company for future growth without the overhead of buying, housing, and powering additional physical servers. In fact, with Hyper-V the company expects to handle their anticipated growth with 12 physical application servers instead of 120. This translates into real savings. Not only have power costs shrunk, the company has saved an estimated $60,000 by not having to buy additional physical servers.
Perhaps most importantly, virtualization has addressed the scalability issue, allowing HotSchedules to maintain its stellar growth. “With Hyper-V, we can fully compete on prices, while keeping our existing competitive advantages of better products and better service,” says a satisfied Woodings.
As HotSchedules discovered, by working with a Microsoft-certified IT partner, a small business can take advantage of server capabilities on par with those in big-businesses. Microsoft offers a range of products to help a small business virtualize its IT infrastructure. Hyper-V provides a platform on which you can consolidate multiple server roles as separate virtual machines running on a single physical machine. You can download Microsoft Hyper-V Server for free to access server virtualization capabilities, or if you already have Windows Server 2008 or plan to upgrade, you will have Hyper-V already built-in. Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager Workgroup Edition combined with System Center Essentials 2007 enables increased physical server utilization, rapid provisioning, and centralized management of physical and virtual machines. Microsoft System Center Essentials 2007 provides comprehensive systems management capabilities such as monitoring and alerting, software distribution, update management, and software and hardware inventory management. Microsoft partners provide complementary business continuity solutions, which reduces downtime and improves availability. Windows Small Business Server 2008 and Windows Essentials Business Server 2008 include Windows Server 2008 Standard technologies which support virtualization with Hyper-V and improve your business functions.
How many solutions today can give your business greater capacity and, at the same time, help lower your costs? Microsoft Virtualization can, which is a pretty neat trick in anybody’s book. It just might even beat pulling candy bars out of an empty hat!