Think Virtualization Isn’t an Option for Your Small Organization? Think Again!

Until recently, the concept of virtualization was something that many chalked up as a privilege only afforded to larger enterprises. The expense alone made it seem out of reach for small to mid-sized businesses. What’s more, in a much less dominating environment with different needs, smaller companies couldn’t really benefit from virtualization. Or could they? Let’s take a closer look at how virtualization can benefit businesses of any size, and, more importantly how you can make it happen for your company.

One of the most common misconceptions about virtualization is that its main purpose is to support larger data centers that have dozens of servers (or more), effectively consolidating them onto a single platform. This further perpetuated the belief that SMBs had no real use for virtualization. After all, most small to mid-sized firms only have to worry about managing a few servers. The reality is, virtualization is actually more about supporting growth and promoting flexibility, something that organizations of every shape, size and industry can benefit from.

The main thing that has long held SMBs back from upgrading their data centers is an obvious one: cost. Couple this with the complexity of the process and the proposed time it takes to accomplish such an upgrade, and it hardly seems worth the investment. Virtualization can actually help alleviate much of this burden by allowing smaller firms access to additional resources on an ad-hoc basis. This provides the opportunity for growth without costing too much time, money or other resources.

Understanding the benefits of virtualization for SMBs is only half the battle, however. The next important step is determining how to leverage this powerful tool without going over budget, something that just about all small to mid-sized organizations are concerned about. The first thing to consider is hardware. One major barrier to virtualization that SMBs have faced in the past is the cost and power requirements of traditional rack, tower and blade servers.

Several vendors in the market today have recognized this and are working to provide a solution. For instance, the development and subsequent release of mini-tower servers and micro servers, such as those now offered by HP, provide the perfect balance of power and functionality on a smaller scale and at a much more reasonable price. One such small-form server can support up to 16 GB of memory and dual core CPUs with much lower power requirements than traditional hardware.

The second component to consider is software. While there are others available on the market, by far VMware is considered to be the premier vendor for virtualization. Unfortunately, the high quality and solid reputation of the VMware product is reflected in its hefty price tag. The good news is, there’s a workaround for SMBs called the VMware hypervisor. This option is completely free, allowing the creation of a host without limit to memory and CPU. Yes, that’s right….it’s completely free.

Of course, these free hypervisors do not include all of the advanced management features that come with the full product, such as centralized management, vMotion and High Availability. That being said, the VMware Essentials Kit can help to bridge this gap. In fact, this solution was specifically designed for the SMB, offering centralized support and management options with the ability to leverage VMware without having to make a significant investment until the time is right.

Once virtualization is in place, the last step is figuring out how support will be handled moving forward. Both VMware as well as the other hypervisor vendors on the market today offer a variety of technical support options, either at a flat-rate, prepaid contract or per-incident basis. As can be expected, this type of paid support can add up rather quickly. The good news is there are other options available, such as free community support and other online user groups. The only downside to this is the time it may take to receive an answer and the fact that this type of support isn’t guaranteed to be accurate.

There is also the option of using third party technical support, which is typically much less expensive than support provided directly from the vendor. Of course, one of the best ways to minimize the cost of support is to ensure that users are trained properly in the first place. Many hypervisor vendors offer free online training options. While this certainly doesn’t replace the comprehensive training offered via paid classes, it’s still a beneficial option that is budget-friendly.

In conclusion, virtualization is no longer something reserved only for larger organizations. With the increasing number of lower-cost options and improved availability of online support, SMBs of any size, budget or industry can take advantage of this powerful tool for further growth and future success.

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