In the not too distant past, companies that needed twenty servers to handle the needs of their organizations would order 20 shiny new servers, some racks to support them and then plug them all in. Some companies still do that, but most others have taken advantage of “virtualization,” which, simply put, means running processes or an application on a simulation of a machine, rather than on a machine itself.

That may not sound like much, but it’s a profoundly different way to look at computer hardware and software. Using a virtual environment allows you to have multiple virtual resources on one physical resource. Instead of purchasing 20 separate, physical server machines, you could purchase two or three larger servers and set up 20 or more virtual machines. It can lead your company to capture multiple benefits that will have wide-ranging effects:

Cut costs. Fewer servers means lower power and cooling costs.  It also means fewer pieces of server and networking equipment, fewer racks, smaller floor space and fewer licenses. Virtualization cuts waste  because it allows IT teams to set up the virtual machines with the exact amount of CPU, memory and storage a particular application needs.

Cut server setup time. It takes time to put a physical machine in a server rack, set up the cables and then wait for the operating system and applications to be installed. If your company has a new data need, your IT group will be able to clone an existing server setup and get a new server up and running in a fraction of the time.

Improve hardware flexibility. Virtualization allows you to become less dependent on particular hardware vendors. Your IT managers can move to a different server company — or drive a tough bargain if they decide to stay.

Increase uptime. Most virtualization platforms allow you many different ways to keep things running smoothly or recover from sudden outages. These technologies include features like live migration, storage migration, fault tolerance, high availability, and distributed resource scheduling. Virtualization also makes it easier to move a virtual machine from one server to another — or even move it across data centers in different locations.

Improve business continuity. When you run things in a physical server environment, you generally need to buy another set of the identical hardware for your disaster recovery site.  Running virtually allows you to be more flexible, and even buy less expensive equipment because it will be used less frequently. By the same token, owning and managing fewer machines makes it easier to create a backup site and test to make sure it works properly. With virtualized servers, you can also better respond to security breaches by "wiping" and rebuilding the virtual machine in minutes.

Support legacy applications. In a physical server environment, IT teams often set up legacy applications on equipment from the same era. The person who originally set things up may have left the company long ago, and if something goes wrong, your team may not be able to resolve hardware compatibility issues. It makes more sense to attack the problem directly and encapsulate the legacy application into a virtualized server, where it can be managed safely for the foreseeable future.

Speed your move to the cloud. Virtualizing your servers will make it easier to move things into the cloud.  Once you have a virtualized data center, you may decide to move to a private cloud environment. And as the public cloud matures, you'll be ahead of the game when you want to go in that direction.

Forrester Research now predicts that 77 percent of enterprises will be using virtualization by the end of the year. But as Forrester’s Dave Bartoletti notes, the easy workloads are already virtualized, and what’s left now are business-critical applications where the primary motivation for virtualization won’t be to save on hardware, but to improve business continuity and disaster recovery. It may make sense, for example, to put your Laserfiche installation in a virtual environment, thus allowing for failover, or moving the system to another machine in case something happens.

Bartoletti also recommends making better use of virtualization management tools. “If you’re not taking advantage of hypervisor resource management to automate VM placement and optimize host utilization and performance, you should be,” he writes. “Do you regularly check consolidation ratios or right-size your VMs? If not, you’re not getting the most value for your virtualization dollar.”

Moreover, Bartoletti says, be ready to discuss the cost justification for virtualization and for virtualizing a particular application with your CFO. “Your CFO will demand cost transparency for virtual environments,” he warns. “Do you know the incremental cost to deploy a new virtualized application into your current environment? Do you track the annualized cost to manage and maintain a VM, including its underlying storage and network infrastructure? If not, spend time this year to up your IT financial management game.”

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