5 Virtualization Strategies for the Budget Challenged and Reasons to Start NOW!

With the great buzz around the technology, why are some companies not on the “V train”? Great question and one I keep asking them.  In some cases, it is education or lack of good information, in other cases, it is budget related.  When departments are all fighting over the same “budget bone”, how do you get your decision makers to Act? Give them some great virtualization strategies that will show them how to pay for it.

A little background

I've heard some talk that this technology is too new to trust mission critical applications with. Truth is, the premise has been around for over 40 years and first used in mainframes in the 60’s.  Virtualization as we know it on the x 86 platforms was championed by VMware in the 90’s.  Today, enterprise virtualization has very little overhead, and virtual servers run with little to no performance impact.  The reasons for using virtualization are well documented.  It can reduce CAPEX (capital expenditure) by eliminating the need for physical servers by 10:1 or more. The byproduct is a large reduction in electric, cooling, and physical footprint that can reduce OPEX (operations expenditures) by reducing downtime, and increasing productivity.  Additionally, Virtualization can help reduce risk, and increase uptime with live migration, workload balancing and other features that can increase application performance and ultimately end user experience.

If I can help just one starving company by introducing low to no cost virtualization strategies, then my job is done! Not really, but I always want to say that.  In reality, there are no good excuses for not at least putting together a virtualization strategy.  The following are 5 virtualization strategies for the budget challenged company.

Strategy # 1: The Starter Strategy.

If your company would like to get started with virtualization, but you think you cannot afford “enterprise class” virtualization, you can!  Thank the highly competitive market for virtualization hypervisors for that.  Know that there are some “trade offs” to consider when choosing your free hypervisor.  VMware ESXi a great choice for shops that plan on using VMware management tools in the future.  Citrix XenServer 5.5 is a very complete offering that includes centralized multi server management, and live motion among the features.  Microsoft shops using Hyper V can use the free Citrix Essentials for Hyper V Express edition, which adds some needed enterprise functionality. Novell Suse Linux Enterprise and Open Enterprise Server have built in virtualization based on the XEN hypervisor with some Novell mods optimized for MS Server, Linux and NetWare guest OS’s. (Note the Interop agreement between Novell and Microsoft ensures high performance between Microsoft and Linux). Don’t be too gun shy when choosing a free hypervisor, you can easily change hypervisor platforms using V2V tools to migrate virtual to virtual platforms. Platespin is arguably the best, but VMware, Citrix and other 3rd parties tools exist, at no cost.

Strategy # 2: The Heterogeneous Hybrid Strategy

Early adopters of virtualization in many cases are using VMware as their vendor of choice.  They are the 800 pound gorilla that owns the market share, and the premium licensing costs that go with it. In all fairness, they deserve the position, but in some cases, there is an argument for a heterogeneous strategy.  The hypervisor has pretty much been commoditized.  The battle for supremacy really boils down to virtual machine management. If you study a comparison guide of virtualization platforms side by side, you will find that VMware, Citrix, Microsoft, Virtual Iron (now Oracle), Novell, SUN all can consolidate servers, isolate workloads, and can be managed in some way between physical hardware.  Did you just buy the top of the line platform for a 30:1 consolidation when you only have 10 workloads? What did you pay for that? Do you have a mission critical workload that you really want VMware ESX server, but you can’t afford to do it this year? Move some non critical workloads to a free hypervisor, like VMware ESXi so you can still use the VMware management tools.  Do you have a Citrix XenApp server farm? Move those to Citrix XenServer 5.5 which happens to be optimized for Citrix XenApp Servers.

Let me give little warning here. Companies who are planning a whole hearted leap into VMware vSphere should know that this is a very complete, integrated strategy that has some state of the art technology, and is NOT very friendly to the heterogeneous strategy. It can be done in doses, but know you may be losing some vSphere functionality.  This is a trade off that must be decided by each company.  vSphere is not a budget challenged discussion, it is a performance and optimization discussion.

Strategy # 3: The Extending your End of Life Systems Strategy

How many times do you hear the phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?”  Well this strategy takes that to heart.  Do you have an old proprietary program that does everything you want, because you built it in house, you love, it works it runs your multi-million dollar manufacturing environment…. But it is on a dying platform on dying hardware?  This scenario brings a tear of joy to the eye of the sales person who gets to convert you over, but this strategy can help keep ‘ole data base betsy working hard for a little while longer and putting the conversion timeline in your control.

The main goal is to at least get you working on up to date hardware that isn’t ready to blow up at any moment. Before virtualization, your hardware would dictate which operating system you would need to be on, and by default, which data base would be supported, on down the line to “obsoletsville”.  You’ll probably find allot of these systems were built in the 90’s to run on NetWare, a very bulletproof platform that just works.  (VMware ESX server, and Novell OES 2 server both can support NetWare guest OS’s, check each companies compatibility list for specifics.) A point of note, Novell is still a very strong company with some very good products.  This claim is strongly supported by the Microsoft / Novell interop. See www.moreinterop.com so don’t be talked into a premature rip and replace when a little strategy will go a long way.

Strategy #4: The Poor Man’s Disaster Recovery

Disaster Recovery (DR) is a very big subject. The simplest being, backups, the most complex including physical recovery of assets, people, over geographies, blah blah… too much to cover here, BUT what virtualization CAN do on a shoestring budget is simple replication of workloads to a safe place.

A workload is the VM, OS, and Application.  Consider this strategy mission critical if you don’t have DR in place. It gives you the minimum protection that really can’t be done with simple tape backups. Simple replication of VM’s using live migrations tools will also get you prepped for stepping up to better solutions like Platespin Protect or the Forge hardware appliance, or VMware’s Site Recovery Manager or Marathon’s everRUN which automate the DR process and provides better protection and availability.  Before virtualization, DR was a 6 figure and up buy in with some enterprises spending millions of dollars.  Today, it can start for free, and scale up to budget worthy.  The best free option here is Citrix XenServer 5.5 since it comes with live motion and multi server management, and later when paired with Marathon eveRUN (a strategic Citrix partner), you have a top shelf solution that is a steal compared to the alternatives.

Strategy #5: The Storage Virtualization Strategy

I know this one may be considered a little out of scope of the virtualization conversation, but storage virtualization is being leveraged by many major vendors to provide some real measurable cost savings.  Multimedia applications are quickly becoming part of the normal enterprise workplace, and videos, pictures, and .mp3 content is eating up disk space on email and web servers.  
Like server virtualization, storage virtualization represents physical storage devices as software, enabling them to do all kinds of wonderful things like central pooling of resources, thin provisioning, replication and more.  Storage companies that are leading the field today such as Compellent, EMC, Scale Computing all use storage virtualization in their products in some way to achieve their functionality.  Many SAN solutions are not intelligent, but JBOD (not my definition) is just a bunch of disks.  It should be “Just a Bad Optimization iDea”.  They end up costing a lot of CAPEX, and OPEX dollars.
 
How does this help my budget you might ask? Well first, the cost of intelligent storage has come down recently. You can now start with a smaller iSCSi SAN at a lower starting point, add central storage management and thin provisioning very inexpensively. Software based companies like DataCore, StarWind offer software SAN solutions that can be built on your own hardware and JBOD disk arrays for a song.

Wrap it all up with a bow
Virtualization should be something affordable to all companies.  Let me go out on a limb here and make a statement. Except for very specific instances, all servers should be virtualized. Some companies today are starting to adopt single instance virtualization to take advantage of the administration and management benefits.  Small companies that would like to add a new application, but not the cost of a new server can now do that, and even mix the Operating Systems.  Imagine the newly found freedom to now add a open source Linux program to your once “under utilized” windows server.

With strategies that are as budget friendly as FREE, there are no more excuses.  Virtualization new comers… Find a non mission critical workload and virtualize it with a free solution.  Build a template and see how fast server provisioning can be. Use P2V tools to see how easy it can be to move a physical machine to a virtual one. Then put a good virtualization plan together, educate yourself, find help where needed, and reap the rewards… within your budget.
Marc R. Potter 03-Mar-2013 0 Comments
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