Virtualization for Small Businesses
Running a small business is a very taxing operation on the few individuals who are involved with the company. The workload is often divided unfairly among employees, and competition with middle and large sized business seems impossible.
One of the tools available to smaller business that can help streamline service, reduce overheads, conserve energy and boost efficiency is virtualization.
While once believed to be only for feasible for large scale corporations, virtualization is being used more and more by small business owners to optimize various tasks and increase overall company productivity.
The concept of virtualization has existed for quite some time, originating in the 1960's. It was only recently that its potential for business was truly discovered.
The general definition of virtualization is the substitution of physical servers for virtual ones. Virtualizing servers essentially fools operating systems into believing there is only a single source of computing resources drawn upon by the entire network.
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Benefits of Virtualization
One of the most notable benefits of virtualization for a business is the consolidation of physical servers. In the past it was acceptable to purchase several individual physical servers to run multiple operating systems, applications and processors.
Virtualizing a business environment could potentially converge all of those services into one machine, with the other machines existing digitally. It would then be possible to run multiple versions of the same OS, or entirely different operating systems such as Windows and Linux, at the same time.
Disaster recovery is another added bonus to virtualizing a business. Because virtual servers are independent of the machines running them, they can be easily relocated and backed up in case of a server failure. Planned downtimes would become a thing of the past, and unexpected downtime recovery would be quick and efficient.
This means guaranteed availability to those coveted data services in case of an emergency. Virtualization also helps in the event that software licenses, applications or operating systems need to be reinstalled without their respective installation CDs.
Reducing the number of physical servers will also cut energy costs substantially. There would be less electricity required to run one machine, and less hardware means less air conditioning needed to prevent overheating. Also, machines running virtual servers operate at a much higher efficiency rate and have greater lifespans compared to their physical counterparts.
How to Decide if Virtualization is Right for Your Business
Virtualization can be an invaluable business investment when incorporated, but it is not recommended for all types of businesses. It is suggested that only small businesses with either a high or growing demand for computing power invest in virtualizing their infrastructure.
A "mom and pop" business selling custom made t-shirts probably would not benefit from such a virtual environment. If the small business is something like an online social networking website, or any other venture that stores and processes a high amount of data, then virtualization would be a much more plausible and beneficial upgrade.
The cost of virtualization may be another deterrent for small business owners. On average, it can require an investment of a few thousand dollars to have a working, properly tested virtual environment implemented into a workspace. The technology itself is not that expensive. Having an IT expert working for the company will help offshoot some of the cost. Otherwise, it will become necessary to hire an outside specialist to help setup the system, which is where the extra expense comes in.
Paid and Free Ways to Begin Virtualization
For small businesses willing to brave the waters of virtualization, there are a few options available. VMware, perhaps one of the best known brand names in server virtualization, offers a software package geared specifically towards small business enterprises dubbed the vSphere, starting at $399.95 USD.
Microsoft also offers its comprehensive Windows Server 2008 vitrual network package in various increments, with the Standard edition recommended for small business starting at about $999 USD.
Thankfully, there are also free virtualization tools available that provide some of the same functionality of the paid versions. Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 is the free version of the Windows Server 2008, and it carries all the program's basic features.
VMware also offers free alternatives, namely, the VMware Server starter kit for hosting Windows, Linux, NetWare or Solaris operating systems. Other free virtual networking tools to consider are OpenVZ, Xen, Virtual Iron Single Server Virtualization and Management, and QEMU.
As small businesses struggle to compete with heavyweight conglomerates, any innovation that can help level the playing field becomes an invaluable asset. Luckily, many of the same techniques used by larger businesses can trickle down to both medium-sized and small businesses.
Virtualization can help companies streamline operations to increase productivity, minimize business expenses like hardware and energy costs, and provide all the capabilities of a physical server network without the congestion or risk of losing information.
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