Basics of Virtualisation

The term virtualisation is simply any way of creating more than one computers or ‘virtual machines’ from one piece of hardware or host. In order to create virtual machines you must have software installed on your host machine. Once you have set up your host hardware you are free to create as many virtual machines running on that same host as you wish (or your hardware allows). Each virtual machine can run its own software (operating systems) independently from the host machine and can be assigned its own share of the available hardware resources available including processor output, RAM and disk space.Large server rack

What can virtualisation do for me?

The key benefit for most businesses is cost. Housing more than one server inside one piece of hardware cuts down on hardware purchasing costs and costs associated with housing and maintaining the hardware.

Another benefit of switching to a virtual environment is virtual machines tend to use the hardware resources more efficiently. Generally most home or office PC’s and servers are only running on maybe 25 percent of the available CPU load capacity and utilising a small portion of the available storage. With an operating system designed for virtualisation it can manage the available hardware resources in a much more efficient manner in real time ensuring nothing goes to waste.

One neat feature of a virtual environment is the ability to quickly replicate virtual machines which in a large hosting or storage environment is a real time saver. Recovery and snapshots are also a great feature. If you run an update which causes issues with your machine you can simply roll it back to another snapshot version without having to re-build the machine from scratch freeing your PC support staff to focus on other jobs.

What are the drawbacks?

Depending on your current hardware, you are likely to need to replace or at least upgrade some of it to be able to handle the demands of running many virtual machines from a few boxes. The actual virtualisation software will also need to be purchased and possibly associated training for your IT support staff.

As you are more dependent on one piece of hardware, if it should fail you are looking at a possible larger impact on your business than if one workstation or server failed. There are some good backup programmes available to mitigate the risk to your business but these will add to your operational costs.

The future

Like it or hate it, virtualisation is here to stay. With mainstream software vendors bringing out virtualisation applications and the support for virtual machines on Microsoft’s latest Windows Server 2008 and even the option to run virtual XP machines within the Windows 7 desktop operating system. The future looks bright for virtual applications, software testing and more environmentally friendly data storage environments.

 

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