Enterprise Server Virtualisation in Australia 2013: Debunking the Myths around x86 Workloads

Enterprise server virtualisation carries many benefits for organisations, including removing reliance on using certain hardware platforms, allowing organisations to shuffle around workloads and easier backup and disaster recovery setup. Virtualising x86 enterprise server workloads in particular helps organisations get more utilisation out of their servers — the average workload of this type uses only 5 to 7 per cent of its capacity when not virtualised. Yet only 48 per cent of x86 workloads were expected to be virtualised on enterprise servers by 2012, according to a report from Gartner. In Datacom’s experience, many of the reasons why organisations stop short of fully virtualising these workloads are based on misconceptions. We look at some of the common fears around virtualisation and how organisations can benefit by further virtualising their x86 enterprise server workloads.

Commons reasons for not virtualising more x86 enterprise server workloads

  • Irrational fear of doing it: Some organisations have a general fear of going further with virtualisaton without having the technical information to back up their concerns. They might be afraid virtualisation will “break something”, add complexity to their IT environment and require more resources to support. A lack of knowledge of which virtualisation tools and platforms to use compounds this fear, according to research conducted by the Gabriel Consulting Group. Enlisting the help of external IT resources to audit the existing enterprise server environment and recommend the best tools for technical, business and budget needs can clarify the right server virtualisation path and dismiss many of the unfounded fears organisations have.
  • Perceived performance issues: It is true that some enterprise server workloads run better, some worse after enterprise server virtualisation. But these “performance issues” are usually only a couple of percentage points of difference that won’t mean much to the average organisation. Most large enterprise server workloads have technical workarounds to boost performance. Certain heavy-transaction applications, such as banking, concert ticketing or airline ticketing, are typically the ones that will suffer performance issues if virtualised.
  • Fears of hardware interactions being negatively affected: Hardware virtualisation has advanced to such a degree that it’s possible to safely virtualise more x86-based enterprise server workloads than ever. Most notably, multi-core processors, better memory capability and hardware-assisted virtualisation have all removed the risks and issues around virtualising these enterprise server workloads. This hardware is not only better-performing, but also cheaper to come by. Still, many organisations mistakenly believe virtualisation is relegated to its former traditional uses of development and testing, not production workloads.

Why virtualise more of your x86 enterprise server workloads?

Enterprise server virtualisation lets organisations consolidate servers and raise the utilisation rates of their systems, leading to savings on infrastructure costs and energy. It also can improve IT management by allowing staff to control more systems and workloads than they previously could with physical enterprise servers. Specifically, virtualising more of your x86 enterprise server workloads brings advantages that cover:

  • Better efficiency and consistency of management:  If you only have a slim portion of your eligible workloads virtualised, IT must continue to use two separate sets of enterprise server management tools, one for physical servers and one for virtual. This adds complexity and time to enterprise server management. Enterprise server virtualisation allows IT to only use one toolset for management and reduces physical hardware maintenance tasks. One of the only areas in which manageability might actually suffer after virtualising can be controlled by your organisation: virtualisation sprawl. This tendency to create too many virtual enterprise server instances just because you can must be mitigated with controls put in place so different departments within the business can’t simply request a new VM whenever they want for unsupported reasons. Monitoring how your departments are using VMs month over month and ensuring to retire VMs when they are no longer being sufficiently used can help nip virtual sprawl in the bud.
  • Cost savings: From IT labour, to power and cooling and data centre space, enterprise server virtualisation can cut costs. The Gabriel Consulting Group reported a 10 per cent increase in the number of organisations saying they save money from virtualisation between 2008 and 2010, and Energy Star says organisations can save between 10 and 40 per cent on energy costs through enterprise server virtualisation. In addition to limiting VM sprawl, organisations can save more money with virtualisation by not putting too few virtual machines on their physical enterprise servers and replacing physical servers within their typical three-year refresh cycle to avoid costly maintenance and repair fees, not to mention performance issues.
  • Disaster recovery: Leveraging virtualisation tools for backup and disaster recovery allows organisations to mount entire images and peruse them online or pull back the pieces needed in a quick period of time as opposed to traditional backup models that tend to take longer to back up or restore. Certain virtualisation tools also provide simpler and more effective failover between VMs, which equates to higher availability and reduced DR complexity.

Are you planning to virtualise more of your x86 enterprise server workloads in the next year? Why or why not?

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