Is virtualisation a cost-effective choice for my company?

With a recent IDC poll of chief information officers (CIOs) revealing that virtualisation is their top priority for 2012, many businesses that might not have previously considered the technology are now doing so.

This is especially the case for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which, through virtualisation, can enjoy an array of benefits that until now only their larger counterparts could take advantage of.

Rather than being tied to one server per single application, SMEs can now enjoy having several virtual machines based on the same physical server. Servers have been getting increasingly powerful with larger amounts of capacity, but when just one application is run on them, this means a lot of computing power simply goes to waste.

In addition, it also means that when a new application is required, companies have to fork out for the initial outlay of new IT infrastructure. On the other hand, server virtualisation negates the need to pay for new servers, which is a financial saving that firms with minimal resources will no doubt welcome.

Likewise, larger organisations will constantly strive to save money during the current economic climate, so virtualisation is a technology that can be a cost-effective option for a wide range of companies.

However, the financial benefits will particularly be seen for those businesses that have approximately half a dozen servers or more, so smaller firms might want to wait until they have a grown a little before committing to virtualisation. Despite this, there are still plenty of pros to the technology, so it will depend on what your IT priorities are as a company.

One advantage already mentioned is that you can get the full potential out of your computing power, rather than large percentages of a server not being required, as if often the case with traditional technology. Furthermore, with servers fully used when virtualised, many companies find they can reduce the number of servers they require. This can not only save data centre space, but also reduce the strain placed on resources in order to keep the servers running and up to date.

Staff and time are often limited at SMEs, so freeing up resources will no doubt be welcomed and help provide increased flexibility. Another benefit to virtualisation is that because high availability and fault tolerance are built into the technology from the beginning, this eliminates weak points, slashing the potential for downtime.

Downtime is costly to businesses both large and small, but SMEs will especially feel the consequences of lost sales, a diminished reputation and consumer frustration caused by a website crashing and operations coming to a halt. They will not have the money, wide customer base and PR machines that their larger counterparts have, so are unlikely to bounce back as quickly from downtime.

Virtualisation can also open the door for ageing software to be removed. This can often be a problem at larger companies that have been set in their IT ways for several years and have perhaps been unsure of how to overhaul their infrastructure due to their size.

One thing smaller firms should consider is whether they have the technical expertise to cope with the move to virtualisation. This is where choosing a hosting partner can prove effective, as such a company will have the time, knowledge and resources to oversee and manage the deployment of virtual servers.

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