The easiest way to explain this is to start with the new technology available called virtualization and show how this is being taken up by the industry and how it effects you
This is the process of having a virtualization platform installed on one or more servers that can run multiple operating systems simultaneously allowing the administrator to allocate resources such as processing, memory and hard drive space from a central pool. It also allows for the operating systems to run as images that can be cloned, stopped and run at will.
Obviously there are different brands of virtualization platforms available, most prominently VMware, Hyper V and Prodmox. Each of these have their own unique selling points as well as mainly doing similar activities. So depending on your budget, activities and use, will decide on what you would go for.
A dedicated server with a single operating system is always going to be faster like for like, as the virtualization platform requires its own resources before it can allocate resources to the OS images you are running, so the machines used need to be powerful.
Advantages to an administrator
Firstly this depends on the type of platform you use, but if we take the basic concept you will start to see the advantages.
Backup and more importantly DR – Most modern backup systems are built to backup virtualized OS images and can recover them to any other virtualization platform quickly. (NB if your DR plan is to use a hosted system make sure you have practiced the recovery as the IP ranges and domain records will probably require being changed, and you don’t want this pressure during an emergency). System state and data backup require first reloading a server which can take time especially if updates are required, software takes time to reload and configure. An image can be recovered from backup and loaded up inside of a couple of hours and possibly far less.
Redundancy – As discussed earlier you will need to invest in powerful hardware to make this solution work, but many of the virtualization platforms allow for clustering and multiple type of hardware. This is taken to the extreme by hosting companies and datacenters which i will get to later, but for an office set up it means you can have at least 2 servers sharing the resources, so if any hardware on one server has a problem you can remove, and repair it whilst still running all your virtual servers (albeit slightly slower)
Updates -It is very simple to clone an existing OS image and boot it up so various changes can be made whilst the system is live on the main image. All teething issues can then be dealt with without disruption and you can always have a backup ready to run if things don’t go to plan.
System management – Virtualization platforms offer a wealth of information and monitoring services that make life easier to manage multiple OS systems smoothly. So instead of managing separately multiple servers, there is a single control panel for everything.
Advantages to industry
The biggest issue for many hosting companies or datacenters used to be the built in redundancy of hardware and operating systems which meant a constant upgrade of equipment. But now they have separated hardware systems that can be added to or replaced on the fly. They have hardrive banks, memory banks and processor banks, which all add their resources to a central control system – that’s right a virtualization platform. Servers can be set up with a cloned operating system inside of minutes, and upgraded on the fly. This has also allowed industry to offer resources on demand so you have a couple of different models for hosting
Virtual servers – This would be offered side by side with dedicated servers by traditional hosting services. This is packaged in the way you would purchase a dedicated hosted server, but allows you to be flexible with your resources, normally changeable on your monthly billing cycle
Cloud computing – This is the Amazon and Azure models where space is initially offered at a low cost but you pay for instances and resources. An instance is every time you send information to the server such as typing or viewing information. Costs can rapidly increase if you are using the servers heavily. If you have heavy usage periods then light usage for example the launch of a movie, these resources can be increased immediately taking on the load during advertising and you would only pay for the usage rather than needing to rent vast server resources under contract.
Cloud solutions – I am going to discuss this further in a later blog on its own, but suffice to say software providers see this as their future way of delivering solutions as it is the easiest way to offer control, and manage software delivery to people
So how will it effect you and is it worth the extra cost
It will effect you in some way or other, as i remember Steve Bulmer saying at a Microsoft convention a few years ago, the train is moving.
If you are a small business then you have a tricky decision to make as the cost of virtualization may not add up and should probably look at a hybrid solution. In-house server for accounting applications, security, and file server ( cloud based file storage is good if your bandwidth is very high but working on a remote system with applications managing your business on a fair internet is going to cause you issues.) Mail and local office applications consider office 365 cloud solution.
Medium and large sized companies should be totally buying into virtualization either locally, in their own datacenter or cloud.
If you want to read some blogs on other topics let me know, at CL-support we are constantly working on high tech problems for industry and believe having a clear understanding of the technology, consequences and delivery is the most important step to successful rollouts.