If you work in IT then you have probably heard of server Virtualisation; it’s everywhere! For those who don’t know, IT virtualisation is a technology which allows us to take what would be many separate physical servers (often called boxes or hosts) and run them on just one physical server. By taking a computer and installing specialist software called a Hypervisor, we are able to house many other (guest) computers on one physical server securely. This process is called consolidation. There are many positives to virtual servers, one being that because each virtual server runs its own operating system it can then be rebooted individually which saves on productivity and overall disruption.
Consolidation has become possible because modern computers now run so fast that even the slowest can be utilised many multiple times more than when running as a stand-alone physical unit. This increased capacity means that newer computers are able to run many more jobs per second, since each job a computer is doing is still the same length. As long as we can find a way to use this extra speed, we’re able to achieve higher levels of utilisation. Usually a computer is used for one sole specific job (e.g. functioning as a web server), working at less than say 10% of its capacity, thus wasting 90%. By virtualising we are able to take a number of such computers running at 10% of their capacity and run them on one hardware computer operating at say 70% capacity (you don’t want to run a computer at 100% as it’s good to have some spare for peaks in demand and a safety margin). This increase in efficiency clearly makes sense on the operational, environmental and financial fronts.
The benefits to the environment of virtualisation are significant. Virtual servers mean a reduction in hardware and the space required to house it, thus reducing the energy needed for powering and cooling the servers, and therefore a reduction in the associated greenhouse gas emissions. The reduction in hardware purchased also means fewer emissions up the supply chain - associated with manufacturing and transport of goods purchased. Furthermore, reduction in maintenance means less energy consumption associated with production and purchase of replacement parts, repair visits, servicing and the associated transport fuel consumption and emissions to air.
A top driver for switching to virtual servers is the enormous cost savings. A significant saving comes from the reduction in software and hardware needing to be purchased and serviced: Like most computers, servers have to be maintained and occasionally replaced in order to keep up with new and fresh technologies to ensure security and reliability. With virtualisation there is also a reduction in labour due to the fact that there are physically fewer servers to maintain, thus further reducing overheads and time. The reduction in energy demand of the server room is another drop in costs, so that the total financial gain is considerable.
One of latest buzz words being thrown about is ‘Cloud Computing’. Cloud computing is when a service provider provides IT services for many client companies, allowing economies of scale to be achieved. Two prime examples of well-known cloud computing firms are Dropbox and Salesforce. Dropbox allows files to be saved to an account and can be accessed by anyone with the account details anywhere with internet access and Salesforce is a customer relationship management tool which is used by many companies.
One type of cloud computing that’s interesting to businesses is ‘Infrastructure as a Service’ (IaaS). IaaS is where a service provider sets up a group of servers running hypervisors, this then allows customers to run their virtualised computers on these servers, this allows you to purchase a share of a physical server from the infrastructure a service provider already has in place and maintains. This removes altogether the need for an organisation to have its own comms room, with obvious large reductions in costs, space requirements and carbon emissions. The scales that some of the service providers operate also allows them to invest money in optimising the energy used by their datacentres due to high purchasing power. This means these providers are able to reduce energy consumption and concomitant carbon emissions, further reducing the costs and environmental footprints of their clients.
The main issue with Cloud services (including IaaS) for more security-conscious companies is that they are being run on someone else’s computers and therefore some control is given up, for example you may not be able to control where your data is stored, the maintenance or backup schedules. Like all machines computers need to be maintained and can sometimes break, when selecting a cloud service make sure you ask or check the contract for maintenance schedules, availability guarantees and response times. You don’t want your servers being rebooted in the middle of your business day, because it happens to be the middle of the night for your supplier’s other major customer.
For companies that have already virtualised their servers, it’s worth thinking about how efficiently your environment is performing; if too many guests are running on a physical server then the speed of these will likely become slow and sluggish, which will only annoy users. On the flipside, if you run too few guests on a physical server then a lot of money and energy will go to waste purchasing and running these machines. Fortunately there are tools which can help firms get the balance right, such as Veeam One and VMware vRealize Operations. VMware vRealize Operations monitors, reports and analyses your environment to ensure that it is healthy, it then can make recommendations regarding efficiency and proactive maintenance. Tools like this can advise administrators on how to allocate expensive computer resources effectively. In some cases these tools can be set up to automatically make changes and even power off unneeded physical servers to save energy, which can be very useful to businesses constantly growing and changing and having continually-shifting IT requirements.
Overall, virtualisation is a great tool and should be considered by companies: Using the above strategies will help reduce the number of computers in your organisation, therefore saving power, inhouse maintenance on hardware and software, carbon emissions and costs.
This blog was written by Giles Barford, a Senior Consultant at ANSecurity. ANSecurity are market leading specialists in Network Security. What would be the best solution for your business? Contact ANSecurity on 0845 226 0462 to discuss your requirements and how they can help.
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