Three virtualisation best practices for small businesses

The use of virtualisation has soared in the past few years. From a test lab technology, it has become one of the mainstream components in the IT industry. According to the 2016 Spiceworks State of IT report, more than 76 percent of organisations are already using virtualisation. Moreover, x86 server virtualisation had an increase of 5.7 percent (about $5.6 billion) in 2016 from the previous year, according to Gartner Inc.

The high-level penetration of virtualisation is due to the many benefits that this technology has to offer. From reduced overhead costs to quicker back-up & recovery, better business continuity to more efficient IT operations, the benefits are many. Virtualisation can be specifically beneficial for SMEs since, with a lesser number of physical hardware, the maintenance cost goes down significantly.

However, in order to make virtualisation successful, it must be integrated with certain other tools, especially project management tools. Organizations can’t afford to shut down the servers or hardware components to implement the virtualisation technology, even for one day. This is because they are the heart and soul of the IT projects and shutting them down can have a cascading effect on the business processes. Therefore, project management teams must take an active role in the virtualisation process and time the technology implementations efficiently. Project management tools such as Workzone and Scoro will help your project teams determine the status of the IT projects and successfully plan implementation of virtualisation to ensure minimal disruption of the business processes.    

If you are a small business owner and want to implement virtualisation, here are 3 best practices to follow:

Virtualisation audit

Instead of random virtualisation of servers, desktops and other hardware units, small business owners must first identify the business goals that virtualisation will help them achieve. A full IT infrastructure audit is necessary to decide the extent of virtualisation that needs to be undertaken. Infrastructure audit also includes understanding how virtualisation should be implemented, setting the right expectations and calculating the ROI. It is best to start with virtualisation of small applications that would be easy to handle if things go wrong and move to other mission-critical projects.

For instance, if you are planning server virtualisation for your organisation, then as a part of the IT audit you need to consider the following:

  • Workload capacity: Servers are virtualized since they are often underutilised. Virtualisation of servers allows more than one application to run on the same server. Since the utilisation increases, you need to consider the workload capacity to ensure efficiency and high performance. Moreover, not all applications can run on virtual servers, so you need to decide which applications are suitable for running on virtual servers.
  • Systems architecture: In this phase, the business owner needs to factor in the current and future business needs. Businesses need to scale their IT components depending upon the demand and work pressure. In doing so, you need to consider the CPU usage, bandwidth requirements, and the related costs.
  • Security: Security issues need to be focused on since each layer of virtualisation increases the potential vulnerability or threat.
  • Operational processes: Virtualisation changes the way jobs are being done within an organisation. So you need to decide how the virtual servers are going to be monitored, maintained, the kind of training employees would require to adapt to the new environment, etc.

Similar in-depth audit needs to be done for all the hardware that need to be virtualised. Scalability is the biggest strengths of a virtual environment, so you can easily be persuaded into creating endless virtual resources. But this may lead to overburdening of the physical units and make management very complicated. So understand your needs before embarking on virtualisation.

Backup must be your top priority

Back-up is important for physical and virtual systems alike. You can either back-up the entire virtual machine or the data contained in it. Backing-up data is a lot easier and allows rapid recovery compared to backing-up the entire system. Thanks to the number of software packages that make physical and virtual machine back-up easier for the small businesses.

However, traditional back-up processes might not work for virtual systems. However, back-up of the virtual systems can be performed in the following ways:

  • Manual back-up. Copy the files stored in the virtual machine manually.
  • Cloning the virtual machine. Give descriptive names to the clones and save them in a destination dedicated for back-ups.
  • Including virtual machine files in the automatic Time Machine backups. This can be done by editing the General settings in the virtual machine.
  • Using third-party back-up software.

Data or machine back-up must be done regularly to make sure the important data and information is easily available even if there is a disaster.

Know the limitations of virtualisation

Before you virtualise all your old physical systems and deploy a number of virtual servers within your IT infrastructure, you must understand the limitations of virtualisation. The limitations are very less compared to the advantages it offers, but they should be taken into consideration before implementing virtualisation within your organisation.

The main limitations are associated with server virtualisation. This is because virtualisation divides the processing power, thus if large databases are stored on the virtual servers that involve a lot of transaction processing, all other processes might get slowed down. Thus the efficiency goes down. Moreover, if the physical server unit fails for some reason, all the virtual components become unavailable. A probable solution can be using two physical servers (with the same configuration) and a centralized storage for all the virtualised components but it becomes cost-intensive and might not be feasible for small businesses with tight budgets.

Finally, setting up and managing a virtual environment is not as easy as it might sound. You may also need to employ skilled manpower to look after the virtual set-up. Therefore, it is a must that you start small scale virtualisation and then move onto more complex set-ups when you become familiar with the new system.

Conclusion

Virtualisation is set to become an even more significant IT component in the near future, therefore businesses both small and big should leverage on this technology. Transitioning to a virtual environment can be very beneficial for your organisation, but you need to know about the virtualisation best practices to reap the best benefits.

Read more: How virtualisation is a vital stepping stone to the cloud

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