Server Virtualization, What Your Outsourced IT Company May Not Be Telling You

I am not going to get into the nuts and bolts of operating system virtualization but I am going to give you enough information to follow along. Software virtualization is the ability to run multiple operating systems at the same time on the same computer. The basic premise is that for most of the day your server is basically idle and the CPU and memory are not tasked with processes all day long, the server has excess capacity and virtualization allows you to maximize your investment by installing another full version of an operating system on your hardware at the same time.

The reuse of surplus computer time can help to minimize the majority of hardware acquisition and maintenance costs and reduces your total cost of ownership and it can result in significant savings for any company.

How does this help me?
Here is the typical scenario; a company has a server that was purchased in 2002, it runs perfectly but there are concerns about its age and the cost to maintain an out of warranty system. The IT people are getting feedback from all the users that the system is slow and that you need more disk space, but overall everything is working just fine.

Based on my 15 years of experience with these types of migrations here are your costs. New Server for a typical 25 user company, with Windows 2003 Small Business Server, Tape Drive and 150GB of RAID 5 storage with tape backup software will run you about $6500.

Small Business Scenario
In scenario A: Company buys a new server and migrates the users, settings and configuration from the existing server to the new server. Most of the basic migration steps can be done without disrupting the users, the accounts are synchronized, the shared folders are created for the data migration, the Exchange Server and SQL server are installed and patched and the migration begins. (This is after the 2 weeks of planning and trial migrations, and the inevitable reinstall because something was just not right) The heavy lifting is done after hours or on a weekend if you have internal IT staff and the process will take anywhere from 8 to 32 hours depending on how your network is configured and how the users access the server. One the migration has been completed the testing begins. Can the users access their mailboxes, are the shared folders there, are the protected folders still safe, does the database work, a huge flurry of tests and you are finally satisfied that the migration has worked.

You then shut down the old server and the company is now running on the new server with new hardware, more disk space and perhaps even the latest version of the operating system. The IT guys love it, the users are finding that things are not EXACTLY like they expected them, especially the printers and email but for the most part SUCCESS. It may take a few days to iron out all the kinks, a huge milestone for your IT staff and not one person will say thank you!

Stay With Me…
Keep focused here, remember that your motivation was to migrate off of old hardware to newer faster equipment and that everything was working just fine the way it was. If you have your own IT staff and they are on salary, then your costs were basically the cost of the server and licenses and maybe a half day or full day off next week for the computer guy.

The economics are not that fantastic if you need to outsource your IT, I know remember I run an IT outsourcing company! At the average rate of $135 per hour even with a discount and a ton of experience and planning the costs of deployment can eventually exceed the costs of the new hardware.

This is an expensive proposition, because you can’t put labor on the lease!

What business has been waiting for is Scenario B: You buy the new server, but you add more memory and maybe the faster CPU’s and your costs are no longer $6500 they may be $7500 for the hardware. You then focus on the goal of migrating your existing running server onto new hardware by using virtualization. Your IT team actually installs new software on your old server and goes through the process called P2V (physical to virtual) migration. The software creates an exact replica of your running server and formats it to run in a virtual server.

I know this all seems a little weird. But you install software on the new server some options include Vmware, XEN, or Microsoft Virtual Server 2005. You then take the backup of the existing server and with a little bit of software magic the Virtual Server Software actually boots the original server on your new hardware. Yep, the new server is running Windows 2003 Server, and it is running the original Windows 2000 Server as a application inside the operating system. Please see the picture.

Virtual Server

The old server is then shut down and the network now sees that you have TWO servers online. The new server running 2003 AND the original server running 2000 and as far as your end users are concerned they nothing has changed its just much faster and you are not running out of disk space.

From the business owners perspective the hardware liability has been removed from the equation, downtime has been all but removed and the total time to migrate has dropped from weeks to days. As far as time goes, the average migration time is about 8 total hours and there can be additional software cost for the virtualization software. So expect to cut your overall deployment costs by about $3500 over the bare metal migration and have a faster deployment and more scalable solution.

If you don’t believe me that virtualization is the next big thing, please understand that Microsoft is building it into the next version of Windows Server 2008 which is due in about 90 days! PLAN FOR IT IN YOUR BUDGETS

As an added bonus of virtualization, you get a disaster recovery plan. The original virtual images can be used to recover all your servers back to the migration point. And with a good backup plan you can be running in as little as a few hours.

Sounds to good to be true.
It can be, there are some machines that can just not be virtualized. No way no how the P2V process just fails, something about the original hardware will not allow it to virtualize; it could be the RAID driver, the mother board or some software conflict. But more than 95% of servers can be migrated successfully. Hardware is cheap, labor costs real bucks.

I know this one sounded a little complicated, but it is easier than you think. Take a look at:

If your current IT staff or IT outsourcer is not speaking to you about server virtualization, take a few minutes to become familiar with its benefits and see how working together will save you big bucks in the future.