The 7-Point Case for Virtualizing Single-Server Sites
Just because a site has just one server doesn't mean it can't -- or shouldn't -- be virtualized.
- By Rick Vanover
Believe it or not, I find myself still having discussions about whether to virtualize remote sites that have just one principal server. The "one-server site" is an interesting phenomenon that can exist in any type of organization, no matter the size (even large multinationals often have small branch offices in remote locations). And even today, it's not a given that every enterprise IT operation is virtualization-friendly; I've seen these one-server sites in all kinds of settings.
The rationale I've most often seen among IT pros who haven't virtualized their one-server sites is based on supportability; they see it as one more thing to support. The one-server site has in most cases one or more workstations; the IT pros I deal with treat the non-virtualized server much like a workstation.
The idea is that "This is the way it's always been done." I'm going to challenge that mindset, and make the case for virtualizing the one-server site. Here's my list of the top reasons to virtualize sites with only a single-server workload:
1. The minute server No. 2 arrives, you can handle it. It may seem unlikely, perhaps even extremely so, but the site requirements may change. The moment that change happens, you can be ready to implement it, with no real barriers.
2. The moment hardware needs to change, you can handle it. One of the interesting things that happens with one-server sites is that the underlying hardware may need to be replaced at unexpected, off-schedule times. By virtualizing that site, you're ready to easily migrate it to a new piece of equipment.
3. You can back it up and manage it easier. With VMware vSphere or Microsoft Hyper-V VMs, you have additional options for protecting and managing the workload from an infrastructure perspective. Specific questions like "How many IOPs does the workload use?" are very hard to answer in non-virtualized systems.
4. You can virtualize it at no additional cost. Free options from both VMware and Microsoft make it very easy to virtualize workloads that might not the need advanced management and availability features of the commercial versions.
5. The central office can have additional management options. Larger datacenters almost always have some virtualization footprint, allowing you to manage the remote site the same way, with the same tools.
6. You have a fallback plan for major upgrades. Bare-metal restores are easy with VM backups; additionally, all platforms have a checkpoint or snapshot so that any change can easily be backed out of from an infrastructure perspective.
7. The performance handoff is minimal. I'll concede that the same server running as a VM won't be as fast as that server will be if it remains non-virtualized; on the other hand, it will be more resilient. We're in a situation today where single-digit performance gains really aren't worth it.
Rick Vanover (Cisco Champion, Microsoft MVP, VMware vExpert) is based in Columbus, Ohio. Vanover's experience includes systems administration and IT management, with virtualization, cloud and storage technologies being the central theme of his career recently. Follow him on Twitter @RickVanover.