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Grow Your Business Technology

The Pros and Cons of Virtualization

The Pros and Cons of Virtualization
Virtualization offers many benefits — and drawbacks, too. / Credit: Virtualization image via Shutterstock

Virtualization often sounds like the holy grail of IT infrastructures. But is this truly the case for small businesses?

Virtualization has several benefits. For businesses with limited funds, virtualization helps them stay on budget by eliminating the need to invest in tons of hardware. Creating virtual environments to work in also helps businesses with limited IT staff automate routine tasks and centralize resource management. Further, employees can access their data anytime, anywhere, using any device. However, virtualized environments have drawbacks. Here are the major pros and cons of virtualization.

Virtualization helps businesses reduce costs in several ways, according to Mike Adams, senior director of cloud platform product marketing at VMware.

  • Capital expenditure savings. Virtualization lets companies reduce their IT costs by requiring fewer hardware servers and related resources to achieve the same level of computing performance, availability and scalability.
  • Operational expenditure savings. Once servers are virtualized, your IT staff can greatly reduce the ongoing administration and management of manual, time-consuming processes by automating operations, thus resulting in lower operational expenses.
  • Data center and energy-efficiency savings. As companies reduce the size of their hardware and server footprint, they lower their energy consumption, cooling power and data center square footage, thus resulting in lower costs. [Read related story: Best Virtualization Solutions for Small Businesses]

If you're transitioning a legacy system to a virtualized one, upfront costs are likely to be expensive. Be prepared to spend upwards of $10,000 for the servers and software licenses. However, as virtualization technology improves and becomes more commonplace, costs will go down D

Virtualization enables businesses to get the most out of their investment 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 out of their setups. "Many of those servers would typically not utilize more than 2 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."

The drawback, however, is that not all servers and applications are virtualization-friendly, Livesay said. "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.

But virtualization is highly scalable. It lets businesses easily create additional resources as required by many applications, such as by easily adding extra servers – it's all done on-demand on an as-needed basis, without any significant investments in time or money.

IT admins can create new servers quickly, because they do not need to purchase new hardware each time they need a new server, Livesay said. "If the resources are available, we can create a new server in a few clicks of a mouse," he added.

The ease of creating additional resources also helps businesses scale as they grow. "This scenario might be good for small businesses that are growing quickly, or businesses using their data center for testing and development," Livesay said.

Businesses should keep in mind, though, that one of the main goals and advantages of virtualization is the efficient use of resources. Therefore, they 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." 

The limitations virtualization faces include a lack of awareness that certain applications or workloads can be virtualized, according to Adams.

"Workloads such as Hadoop, NoSQL databases, Spark and containers often start off on bare-metal hardware but present new opportunities to be virtualized later on," Adams said. "Virtualization can now support many new applications and workloads within the first 60 to 90 days on the market."

Although more software applications are adapting to virtualization situations, there can be licensing complications due to multiple hosts and migrations. Regarding performance and licensing issues, it's prudent to check if certain essential applications work well in a virtualized environment.

Additional reporting by Sara Angeles.   

Andreas Rivera

Andreas Rivera graduated from the University of Utah with a B.A. in Mass Communication and is now a B2B writer for Business.com, Business News Daily and Tom's IT Pro. His background in journalism brings a critical eye to his reviews and features, helping business leaders make the best decisions for their companies.