Give me your tired, your poor performing,
Your overheated systems yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming racks.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me;
I lift my virtual lamp beside the golden hosts!
Reaping the benefits of virtualization requires a change in thinking and perception from the physical to the virtual. It also requires you explore a strange new world of money-saving opportunities.
Leaving the safe and costly shores of physical systems and localized support for virtualization's promise of greener pastures isn't easy, and there are many questions to answer. How do we get started with virtualization? What's the best type of virtualization to use? Who are the major virtualization vendors? What are my support options? Are outsourced options less expensive than in-house ones?
Mapping a Strategy
Before you go off half-prepared to virtualize your infrastructure, there are a few things you should know. First, are you prepared to make a significant investment in new systems onto which you'll host your virtual machines? If not, virtualization might not be the technology haven for you. It isn't prohibitively expensive, but there are costs involved with any new or unfamiliar technology.
Second, if you choose localized virtual infrastructure over a leveraged (outsourced) solution, you'll need properly trained employees to implement this new technology with ease. Training is an essential part of any new technology so that cost mistakes aren't made during the adoption and implementation processes.
Finally, you'll need to have some idea of which services you want to convert to virtual ones. Almost any service has the potential, but each should receive its own individual evaluation by your current staff. Assuming you've defined some, or all, of your services as virtualization candidates, your journey to the new world is under way.
Choosing a Vehicle
All virtualization technologies perform the same function: Abstracting physical resources into virtual ones. This fact makes it more, not less, difficult to choose a particular virtualization strategy. With the exception of VMware's ESX product, all virtualization product strategies are free of charge. This single fact should make the choice less difficult, but it doesn't. VMware's ESX product, despite its cost (~$2,400 per processor), is the most popular choice for large businesses. Why? The simple answer is support support from VMware itself, support from third-party vendors, support from hardware manufacturers and support from technical staff. VMware offers a free version (ESXi) of its flagship ESX product that includes the same enterprise-level features but without the operating system.
Other choices for server virtualization are Citrix XenServer, Microsoft's Hyper-V and the little-known ProxMox VE (Virtualization Environment).
VMware also makes its VMware Server product available free for download and use. VMware Server lacks many of the enterprise-level features of ESX and ESXi, and it is far less hardware-finicky than the other solutions listed. For a small company or for someone with limited hardware resources, VMware Server is an excellent entry-level server virtualization product.
Watching Vacation Videos
So far this excursion included taking only the full trip on the good ship virtual, but in reality, there is another choice: Outsourcing. Outsourcing your services to a hosting company is not a bad thing. If your company is small or spread out over a large geographical area, this type of virtualization just might fit into your plans and your pocketbook. Outsourcing your services to a company such as Amazon, Elastichosts or 1and1.com provides superb service, lower costs, fewer support staff, 24x7 support and no dependence on your local Internet service to and from your office.
Each of these companies uses a different type of virtualization technology to provide services. Amazon uses XenServer, Elastichosts employs KVM and 1and1 provides virtual containers for its customers. Which of these services you choose depends on how you use your current infrastructure. Some of your services might flourish on containers while others might require fully virtualized machines on which to run.
Virtualization helps maximize resource usage while holding down costs, whether local or leveraged. Do yourself a favor and check into the technology and the providers. Talk to others who have made the great voyage to the distant shore and find out if the money they've saved is physical or virtual. Write back and discuss your experiences with local vs. leveraged virtualization. Was the journey worth the price of the ticket, or do you wish that you'd stayed home and read about it in the newspaper?
Ken Hess is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of open source topics including Linux, databases, and virtualization. You may reach him through his web site at http://www.kenhess.com.