VMware, a leading IT virtualization and cloud technology company, is a familiar name to midsized and large enterprises. But its small business virtualization presence has been somewhat limited, until now.
At this week's VMworld 2012 show in San Francisco, the company announced a range of virtualization tools to make the technology far more accessible to smaller businesses that lack trained internal resources.
[Editor's Note: If you want a quick "virtualization 101" tutorial, read this article before going any further.]
When it comes to the subject of virtualization, there is only so far down into the small business category that VMware penetrates. It isn't so much about the number of employees. A company with 200 employees might not need virtualization, while another business with a staff of ten may benefit immensely. Here's a good rule of thumb to determine whether virtualization makes sense: look at the number of servers present.
Unless a company already has about half a dozen servers on the floor, the return on investment might not be there. But for a business of that size or larger, the benefits can include fewer servers, a big drop in power costs, lower management costs and a far more flexible IT platform on which to run the business.
Virtualization can be a smart move, particularly for a small business that owns aging servers and needs to replace them. The value proposition is simple: it is often possible to take anywhere from six to ten physical servers and consolidate them onto one physical server. That one physical server has six to ten (sometimes a lot more) virtual machines (VMs) inside, with each one operating as an individual server.
"I've seen as many as 25 VMs running on one server," said Ed Hsu, product manager for virtual storage at VMware.
Before we get into the product specifics, here's a quick word of warning. VMware seems enamored with complex product names that almost invariably have a "v" at the beginning. vSphere, for example, is a VMware product that provides an operating system and platform on which all the virtualization or cloud computing can take place.
Virtualization Products for Small Business
VMware vSphere Essentials Plus is a package of virtualization services for small businesses. It includes VMware vSphere Storage Appliance (VSA) as a way of pooling all the storage that lies within existing servers and makes it easy to manage it as though it was one central repository. This can be a godsend for companies struggling with the notion of implementing more complicated network storage devices.
The VSA provides features that let you, for example, move virtual servers around from one place to another in minutes as a means of performing server maintenance, or for disaster recovery purposes. In addition, its high availability capabilities mean that if one server fails from within a group of three servers, no data will be lost. Instead, the VSA instantly moves the VMs from the failed server over to the other two physical servers until you repair or replace the faulty server. A specific "v" tool called vMotion performs this function.
"Servers break," said Russ Stockdale, vice president and general manager of SMB Solutions, at VMware. "With the new storage appliance, VMs get popped over to other server if there is a failure."
Virtual Data Backup and Recovery
VMware's vSphere Essentials Plus includes another solid feature: VMware vSphere Data Protection, which provides virtual machine backup and recovery. It's designed to be easy to run so that small businesses don't fret too much over backup policies and backup administration.
It also comes with de-duplication, which removes the duplicate files that have already been backed up and thus reducing the amount of data you need to back up each night.
This can make a 10-to-one difference over how much data has to be transmitted over the network.
Like Data Protection, VMware vSphere Replication also comes with Essentials Plus. As a component of a disaster recovery plan, replication maintains a complete copy of an environment running at another location. If one site fails, the other one is ready to get up and running fast. Companies with VMs can replicate them across the network.
VMware throws a couple of other elements into its Essentials Plus package. vShield Endpoint provides security for VMs so you don't need to load additional antivirus and anti-malware software. VMware Go Pro is a how-to kit for virtualization. It helps a small business deploy and then manage its virtual environments. Wizards walk you through the process step-by-step, and it comes with simple-to-use tools to monitor a virtual infrastructure using a Web-based interface. For a limited time, VMware is providing Go Pro for free to Essentials Plus buyers.
"There are a lot of elements to take care of it in any virtualization project and Go Pro makes everything easier," said Stockdale.
VMware vSphere Essentials Plus sells for $4,495. This includes licensing for 6 processors on up to three hosts (physical servers). There is also a very slimmed-down version called vSphere Essentials that doesn't have Go Pro, VSA or vMotion. It sells for $495 and also supports up to three hosts.
Our advice: if you are going to virtualize, go whole hog and buy Essentials Plus. All it takes is one server glitch, and you'll wish you had.
You can buy these products direct from VMware, however the site is aimed at the educated user and throws an awful lot of terminology at you. VMWare's Russ Stockdale suggests contacting a VMware partner via the partner locator.
Drew Robb is a Los Angeles-based freelancer specializing in technology and engineering. Originally from Scotland, he graduated with a degree in geology from Glasgow's Strathclyde University. In recent years he has authored hundreds of articles as well as the book, Server Disk Management by CRC Press.
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