Embracing virtual technology

SEP 2010

Virtualisation involves using the internet to separate the operating systems and applications from IT hardware – a procedure loosely related to and often described as ‘cloud computing’.

OntheNet VStrata product manager Peter Lepherd, says most Gold Coast SMEs have recognised the advantages of co-locating their server in a data centre where the power, cooling and bandwidth is far superior – but virtualisation offers a cheaper way.

He says using a virtual private server – the product of the virtualisation concept, means businesses may never have to buy another server again.

“Even physical servers in data centres have the same issues of capital cost, sparing, backup and maintenance. It’s a lot of work that most businesses can do without,” says Lepherd.

“Virtual private servers are a result of improvements in software technology. Essentially, service providers that have traditionally offered only co-location services in their data centres now offer virtual private servers, a small slice of a cluster of physical servers and enterprise grade storage.

“Virtual private servers operate in the same fashion as having your own physical server housed at a data centre but without the purchasing issues, without the challenges of server maintenance and sparing and backup, and even without the operating system maintenance in some cases.”

Although in theory cloud computing is a simple and effective technology, there are many options for virtualisation services – the important factor is identifying the best suited technology to create cost savings and efficiency improvements in each individual business.

CQT Consulting director Tony Bearzatto, says virtualisation ‘can be the single greatest change an organisation can undertake’, but there is a potential risk if not done properly.

The advice is to consult the experts before making any big IT decisions.

“Some customers are quick to progress the implementation of new technologies without consulting the business and obtaining buy in from the stakeholders,” says Bearzatto.

“We often start talking to customers after the shift to virtual or cloud architecture has progressed and the implementation stalls due to the lack of project management or governance.

“There are clients who get caught up in the latest trends and technologies and can make some bad decisions, the right approach is reviewing current systems and aligning their technology requirements with desired business outcomes.”

When implemented correctly, Bearzatto says the benefits of virtual servers go much further than reducing overheads and cutting costs.

“Many small businesses are motivated by cost alone, however when choosing a service provider the first concern should always be data security and service levels,” he says.

“The greatest benefit from virtualisation or cloud computing isn’t the reduction in operational costs, but the reduction in risk obtained from implementing resilient systems.”

IT Leaders’ general manager Scott Jones agrees that virtual private servers will minimise risk, but only if done correctly.

“By relying one server instead of a cluster it could actually increase data loss risks, but if it’s done properly VPS can definitely reduce those risks,” he says.

“For example, we use a large group of servers that operate as a farm so if one of the physical servers goes down it won’t have any detrimental effect on our customers.

“The other advantage is that virtualisation makes it easier to move large amounts of operating data around. Where in the past thousands of files would make up an operating system, virtualisation condenses the whole operating system into a single file image.

“This means if a server in a data centre was to fall into a hole it can be quickly and easily restored.”

The advantages of virtualisation for small business certainly seem simpler than the technology itself, but the real question for SMEs is the cost-effectiveness.

Lepherd says virtual private servers have become an extremely viable business option and means the end of regular decisions on whether to outlay capital to replace and upgrade server hardware.

“The good news for businesses is that such services are now available at similar rates to the co-location rates alone,” he says.

“We can really see a time coming where Gold Coast businesses would only choose to manage physical servers in house for the very highest level of control and internal management.

“The economics make it a simple decision.”

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