Companies everywhere are realizing significant cost savings and improved flexibility through the virtualization of IT infrastructure and the Software Defined Data Center. One of the essential components of traditional IT infrastructures is the server, which is relied on to store information and power applications. Traditionally, servers are a piece of physical hardware that is stored on premise.
Many businesses are now opting to use virtual servers to power vital business functions. If you are unclear on the functionality and capability of this technology, continue reading for answers to the following questions:
- What is a virtual server?
- How does it differ from other types of servers?
- Most importantly, how can a virtual server save your business money?
Traditional Server Infrastructure
Historically, servers in the workplace have been dedicated to a specific workload. Although they are capable of multi-tasking and running more workloads, this is frowned upon because of application compatibility and support with different software vendors running under a single operating system. This has led to servers being underutilized (only 10%) within data centers while also requiring more floor space, ventilation cooling and power to support them.
A traditional “bare-metal” server, sometimes referred to as a physical or private server, has its operating system installed and run directly on the hardware. This infrastructure can provide challenges for backup and restoration, as well as redundancy. It is more difficult and expensive to provide the same level of application availability on traditional infrastructure when compared to our capabilities with virtual servers.
Virtual servers are very similar to traditional servers, in which both require an operating system and applications to perform. And while there may be little noticeable difference on the user side, virtual servers provide a traditional server experience without needing to be physically on-site.
By virtualizing the underlying hardware, virtual servers makes it possible to eliminate the vast majority of the physical footprint within your office.
What Is a Virtual Server?
A virtual server is a server that is housed in an offsite data center. Virtual servers make it possible to share their processing power among multiple users. What this does, in effect, is enable for full use of each server's processing capability, something practically unheard of with traditional, on-site servers.
Virtual servers still require physical hardware components, but because the hardware today is so powerful, there is no longer a need for a 1-to-1 relationship between the operating system and physical hardware. Instead, multiple virtual machines can now reside on a single piece of hardware in your office, providing high levels of consolidation and cost savings in your on-site data center.
Virtual servers are also “portable” in a way. They are able to move back and forth across the physical hardware available onsite to offer redundancy for the services they provide. They can also be migrated off-site to a cloud-hosting provider when the internal resources don’t meet the needs of the application. These virtual servers can be located in a data center offsite that can be managed by your IT department or an IT services provider – and accessed by your company over the Internet. This means, to operate and access these remote virtual servers, all you need in your office building is Internet access.
Virtual Servers vs. Physical Servers
When comparing virtual servers vs. physical servers, the question will always come down to your specific needs. Some businesses, organizations or entities will still prefer physical servers, typically because they believe this option provides better security and faster uptime. But those preferences are partly built upon older information. Remember, technology is always growing, changing and evolving.
The reality is, today's virtual servers provide plenty of benefits. Taking a moment to review the benefits of virtual servers may help you determine which option is right for your business.
Benefits of Virtual Servers
There are a number of benefits your company can enjoy with virtual servers. Cost savings are the most often cited reasons for switching to virtual servers, but there are also benefits that go beyond money. To name a few, with virtual servers you can boost productivity and enjoy a greater level of security. Let’s take a closer look:
There are two factors often cited when explaining the cost savings offered by virtual servers: capital expenditure and utilities. When your company needs greater server capacity in a traditional infrastructure, you have to spend thousands of dollars in new servers and supporting hardware. These new pieces of hardware all need a physical home, access to the power grid and proper ventilation and cooling mechanisms.
Virtualization on average strives towards 85%+ utilization of the physical hardware used (compared to the 10% of traditional servers mentioned above). As your company's needs grow, you can easily create new virtual machines on the hardware you already own. So, you’ll spend less on capital expenditures in hardware, but it doesn’t end there. You’ll also experience reduced energy costs. According to data from technology research firm Gartner Inc., each virtual server delivers an 80% reduction in total energy costs (on average).
The burden on your company’s IT department is significantly less with virtual servers as well. Virtual servers mean fewer physical machines, which results in less time maintaining and monitoring server related hardware. If you’d choose hosted virtual servers, those responsibilities can be eliminated because they would fall entirely on your hosted provider’s IT department. This frees up your IT staff to rapidly respond to in-house emergencies and provide better support for everyday issues with the network.
Additionally, it is much easier to stay ahead of the software curve with virtual servers, because the support, upgrades and patches are easier to manage and implement. By cloning your production servers into a test/dev. environment, administrators can easily test the installation and deployment of patches and upgrades without affecting application availability. And by using “Snapshots” of your virtual servers, prior to any changes, it’s easy to roll back failed updates or changes, which reduces downtime.
Backup has traditionally been a headache for the IT department. Trying to backup the important data in a timely fashion has been an ongoing struggle. Most IT departments choose to just backup the data and not the operating system itself. This means that backups happen faster, but restores require you to obtain hardware (if needed), rebuild the operating system and applications, and then restore the data. This can take hours, and even days, to complete, working around the clock.
Virtualization has eased that burden. Because of the abstraction layer between the physical hardware and the virtual server, backup software has evolved to backup the entire virtual server as a whole container. This not only provides greater protection but also faster restores when it really matters. We can go back to an exact working image from the time the backup was taken and not have to worry about minor details that are so often overlooked when trying to rebuild a server.
A primary goal for all IT departments is reducing downtime. Traditionally, this meant having spare parts on hand along with 4-hour warranties to prevent or reduce the downtime with any hardware failures that arose. Virtualization has significantly reduced the downtime in today’s data center because it doesn’t rely on specific hardware make/model. Because the virtual servers are “portable” in a sense, you no longer have to wait for new parts to arrive; instead the virtual servers can easily move to other server hardware in the cluster, providing greater redundancy and close to 100% uptime while the failed server is being repaired.
Last but not least, your company can enjoy greater security on virtual machines. From a monitoring standpoint, virtual servers create a smaller infrastructure that is easier for IT staff to monitor and manage.
If a breach is detected, it can be dealt with more swiftly, too. Virtualization creates an environment of isolated machines, making it easier to contain a breach should it occur. This helps minimize the spread of malicious software throughout the entire network.
From top to bottom, a virtual server environment can offer your company significant cost savings. You can save money on hardware, reduce the size of your IT department and experience less employee downtime by making the switch to virtual servers with the help of an IT services provider.