Virtualisation as a technology is not new, and has in fact been in existence since the 1970’s when it was pioneered on IBM mainframes, allowing the machines to run multiple operating systems on a single physical system with shared hardware resources.
However, the IT world has changed dramatically since those days, mainframes have become servers and end point terminals may comprise a wide variety of machines, from laptops to desktops and even tablet PCs. Over the last decade or so virtualisation has matured to become a core business technology that helps organisations to balance high availability and security against the need for flexibility, resource sharing and efficiency and consolidate the IT environment. Today the concept of virtualisation can apply to a range of system levels, including hardware level, server level and operating system level.
One of the goals of implementing any type of virtualisation is to reduce the physical space used by IT systems. At an operating system level virtualisation enables organisations to have a single server that is able to run multiple OS’ instead of having to dedicate one server to one OS. This enables not only space saving but cost savings as well, as it is no longer necessary to purchase a large number of servers to run the different OS installs and simplifies maintenance.
OS level virtualisation delivers a number of benefits to organisations that can positively affect the bottom line. By reducing the number of physical machines required to run an environment organisations can not only save space and the money involved in purchasing a large number of machines, these bottom line benefits can also translate into other areas. Firstly OS virtualisation, because it requires fewer machines, can help organisations to bring down the cost of their electricity. Fewer devices mean lower power consumption, lower cooling requirements and tangible electricity savings.
OS virtualisation also enables organisations to make improvements in terms of efficiency of use of the server hardware, which leads to a greater return on investment (ROI) on purchases and greater operational effectiveness in IT. The servers also become easier to manage, as there are fewer of them, so organisations do not require as many staffing resources and people to maintain and service the infrastructure.
In a virtualised OS environment tools are also available to assist with capacity planning. This makes it that much easier to maintain performance as organisations will be able to get a clearer picture of how much the environment is growing and as a result how much RAM is needed to sustain the environment. These tools can also assist with workload balancing to ensure performance remains at steady levels.
Virtualised operating systems and servers are also easier and faster to deploy than traditional environments, as the virtual machines can be prepared ahead of time and imported when necessary, whereas with a traditional deployment each and every single machine needs to be loaded individually. In a virtualised environment if more virtual machines are needed, the same template can be used to load them, making the process a lot simpler and faster. Backup times are also faster and it is significantly quicker to recover from disaster, as the virtual machine can be restored to any other machine.
There are many benefits for organisations when it comes to implementing a virtualised OS environment, however one problem that exists is if the server holding all of the virtual machines goes down, the whole network of OS will go down with it. This makes having efficient failover and redundancy vital, to ensure that if one machine goes down another can take over from it seamlessly. Similarly if a virtual machine on the system goes down this should be redundant to another virtual machine on the system. In this way the pitfalls can be avoided and productivity can continue.
One other thing to bear in mind is that the configuration and setup of a virtualised environment is of the utmost importance. If it is not set up correctly it can cause issues with networking, especially if an organisation is running unified storage, and can cause performance issues if machines are not provisioned correctly. Using an outsourced provider with the expert skills required can ensure that the virtualised environment is up and running 24/7, that the virtual machines do not overuse resources, and that any issues that crop up can be addressed and corrected immediately.
While virtualisation, and particularly virtualisation at the OS level, can deliver substantial benefits to IT and the organisation, it is imperative to get the configuration of these right. Outsourcing the configuration and maintenance enables organisations to take advantage of the technology while still focusing on their core business, using expert skills and resources to deliver the best possible service.
By Gerrit-Jan Albers, Service Delivery Manager at RDB Consulting