Virtualization has several benefits. It keeps businesses on budget by reducing hardware costs, and it helps businesses with limited IT staff automate and outsource routine tasks and centralize resource management. Plus, employees can access their data anytime, anywhere, from any device.
However, virtual environments have drawbacks, too. Keep reading for everything you need to know to determine if virtualization is right for your business.
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Virtualization is the use of software to create a virtual version of a physical device, such as a computer, a storage device or even a network. By using virtualization software, anyone can create simulated representations of hardware to run multiple processes from one machine.
For example, if a software developer needs to work with Windows, macOS and Linux environments for coding and compatibility testing, they could install all three on a single laptop using virtualization software. It’s also fairly common to find a MacBook that’s also running a Windows-based virtual machine.
A computer running multiple virtual machines will divide its computing power, storage space and bandwidth among the installed virtual environments. [Learn about the difference between virtualization and cloud computing.]
Before implementing any kind of new technology in your business, you need to understand its advantages and disadvantages. Here are some of the upsides to virtualization:
Virtualization helps businesses reduce costs in several ways, according to Mike Adams, former vice president of product and technical marketing at Ivanti:
Virtualization enables your business to get the most out of your investments in hardware and resources.
“As customer data center environments grow in size and complexity, managing it becomes a burden,” Adams said. “Virtualization can greatly help reduce this complexity by offering resource management capabilities to help increase efficiencies in these virtual environments.”
In contrast, traditional infrastructures that use multiple servers don’t make the most of their setups.
“Many of those servers would typically not utilize more than 2 percent to 10 percent of the server hardware resources,” said John Livesay, vice president of Infranet Technologies, a network infrastructure services provider. “With virtualization, we can now run multiple virtual servers on a single virtual host [and make] better use of the resources available.”
Virtualization is highly scalable. It lets you easily create additional resources as required by many applications, such as by adding extra servers — all on an as-needed basis and without any significant investments in time or money.
IT administrators can create new servers quickly because they don’t have to purchase new hardware each time they need a new server. “If the resources are available, we can create a new server in a few clicks of a mouse,” Livesay said.
The ease of creating additional resources also helps businesses scale. “This scenario might be good for small businesses that are growing quickly or businesses using their data center for testing and software development,” Livesay said.
Moreover, Adams said, “Workloads such as Hadoop, SQL databases, Spark and containers often start off on bare-metal hardware but present new opportunities to be virtualized later on. Virtualization can now support many new applications and workloads within the first 60 to 90 days on the market.”
To identify the level of services your organization needs, determine the complexity of your potential virtualization processes, your individual requirements and the number of users who will need virtualized services.
While companies stand to gain a lot by embracing virtualization, business owners need to keep these downsides in mind:
If you’re transitioning from a legacy system to a virtualized one, upfront costs are likely to be high. Be prepared to spend upward of $10,000 for the servers and software licenses. However, as virtualization technology improves and becomes more commonplace, costs will go down.
Not all servers and applications are virtualization-friendly, Livesay pointed out. “Typically, the main reason you may not virtualize a server or application is only because the application vendor may not support it yet or recommend it,” he said.
Although more software applications are adapting to virtualization situations, there may be licensing complications due to multiple hosts and migrations. To avoid performance and licensing issues, you should check if your business’s essential applications will work well in a virtualized environment before moving too far ahead in the process.
Keep in mind that one of the main goals and advantages of virtualization is the efficient use of resources. You should be careful not to let the effortlessness of creating servers result in the carelessness of allocating resources.
“Server sprawl is one of the unintended consequences of virtualization,” Livesay said. “Once administrators realize how easy it is to add new servers, they start adding a new server for everything. Soon you find that, instead of six to 10 servers, you are now managing 20 to 30 servers.”
That quantity may prove too much for your team to manage, thereby negating the streamlining benefits of virtualization.
Virtualization can be extremely beneficial if you’re looking to scale your company or save on technological resources. Before you make any changes, however, make sure your hardware and software are capable of virtualization.
If you’ve carefully weighed the pros and cons and are ready to use virtualization in your business, we recommend the following products and vendors.
VMware offers a wide range of virtualization products and services that make IT less costly and easier to manage for all types of companies, including small businesses. Its end-to-end solutions include vSphere, a virtualization platform that is known for its high reliability and is used by businesses around the world. It delivers powerful computing that can handle multiple workloads with maximum uptime and optimal performance.’
You may want to check out our review of Splashtop, high-quality remote access software that works well with VMware.
Citrix boasts several virtualization solutions suitable for small businesses. One is Citrix desktop as a service (DaaS). Previously called Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops service, Citrix DaaS delivers a scalable desktop virtualization service that is easy to deploy and manage. Anyone with Windows expertise can centrally manage the service and grant user access, thereby reducing desktop management costs, like hiring IT specialists and purchasing extra equipment and software services, such as virtual desktop integration (VDI). Another option is Citrix Hypervisor, which provides instant and secure access to virtualized applications for the entire organization.
Notably, Citrix is compatible with some employee monitoring software, as noted in our review of Teramind.
IBM sells many types of server virtualization solutions that lower costs and maximize agility for small businesses. Using VMware’s virtualization platform, IBM’s virtualization services (available through IBM Cloud) provide an enterprise-class IT infrastructure on a small business budget. You can choose from three plans based on your needs: IBM Cloud Virtual Servers, which are scalable cloud-managed solutions; IBM Cloud Virtual Servers for Classic Infrastructure, which is tailored to small teams; and IBM Cloud Hyper Protect Virtual Servers, which are VDI solutions that cater to growing teams and feature additional security layers.
To get the most out of virtualization, it’s wise for your IT team to obtain certifications in the technology. You may also wish to hire administrators who already have these credentials.
Because VMware certifications are based on the company’s proprietary technology — most notably, vSphere — the vendor’s data center and network certifications change as the technology advances. Those interested in a VMware Associate certification must pass a single exam, while Professional and Advanced Professional certifications require training courses or a prerequisite certification and an exam. Design Expert certifications are even more extensive.
For professionals interested in Citrix certification, the company offers credentials for virtualization at the Associate, Professional and Expert levels. Associate credentials are earned by passing a single exam, and training is not required. From there, you can work your way up to Professional and Expert certifications, which require more involved testing.
The Cisco certification program offers a wide range of certifications, from Entry to Expert level. Depending on the certification you’re looking to earn, there are various exams and prerequisites. Most certifications are valid for three years. After that, you’ll need to recertify by either passing a recertification exam or advancing upward in Cisco’s certification program.
Like many other certifications, Microsoft Azure credentials are earned by passing an exam. Azure certification requires a strong understanding of virtual machines, Azure subscriptions and identity management, as well as six months of experience administering Azure. You can earn various certification levels, from Associate to Expert. For those looking to earn the Microsoft Certified: Azure Administrator Associate credential, Microsoft offers various self-study materials to help prepare for the exam.
Virtualization gives any business a way to make the most out of modern technology. More importantly, it helps an organization become a bit more agile when handling multiple tasks with limited IT resources. By adding virtualization capabilities, you multiply your operational abilities while investing minimal time and resources. Scaling according to changing demands becomes quick and easy with tools that give you options to grow.
Eduardo Vasconcellos and Sean Peek contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.