If you run a small or mid-sized business, virtualization promises cost savings and improved IT efficiency. To help ensure you understand the advantages, we drew up a list of the most tangible benefits that virtualization has to offer small and mid-sized businesses.

Virtualization isn't just for large corporations and enterprises. Although many virtualization solutions are catered toward bigger companies, there are several that also let small businesses simplify their IT and provide employees with anytime, anywhere, any-device-access to resources.

Whether you're interested in server virtualization, desktop virtualization, workspace virtualization, network virtualization, automating IT tasks or other time- and money-saving virtualization services, we make it easier and more affordable for small businesses to do so. Below are some main benefits of using virtualization.


1. Increase Server Efficiency

As you no doubt already know, the traditional and most compelling reason for implementing server-side virtualization is to make more efficient use of computing resources with regards to processor and RAM. Beyond savings in energy and cooling costs, small and mid-sized businesses can cut their capital expenses as fewer physical servers are purchased to replace a larger number of ageing machines as they are decommissioned.

Implementing server virtualization at its simplest revolves around squeezing in as many virtual machines (VMs) as possible within physical server hosts.


2. Improve Disaster Recovery Efforts

Disaster recovery (or DR) revolves around being able to reinstate things to a state of normalcy after a disaster. As you can imagine, backing up a fully virtualized infrastructure by making copies of VM files images is a far easier process than trying to do the same with disparate hardware servers.

Moreover, it takes just a fraction of the original hardware equipment to host an entire infrastructure using virtualization. What this means for cash-strapped small and mid-sized business is that you could afford to buy a small number of servers to be housed at an alternative location. In the event of a disaster, these servers could then be relocated as necessary, loaded with the latest VMs and put into action faster than the lead times offered by most IT vendors.


3. Increase Business Continuity

Business continuity is different from disaster recovery in that the goal is achieving zero or a minimum amount of interruption to business operations. Given that the most common source of failure in the data center is probably the failure of server hardware, this is where a server virtualization feature called live migration helps preserve business continuity by eliminating the need for downtime.

Using live migration, administrators are able to seamlessly move live VMs between physical server hosts without having to first power them down. Live migration works by synchronizing disk and memory states in the background between two physical servers, then stopping the origin VM and starting the target VM at the same instant.

Live migration can facilitate server maintenance or hardware upgrading without you having to schedule any maintenance downtime. Moreover, a heavily loaded VM may also be moved to a beefier server in order to better balance workloads across a pool of available physical servers. An extension to this concept would be perform the above-mentioned load balancing autonomously, or even shift VMs onto a fewer number physical hosts during off-peak timings, powering redundant servers down to reduce electrical consumption.


Most server virtualization platforms now offer a number of advanced features that just aren't found on physical servers, which helps with business continuity and increased uptime. Though the vendor feature names may be different, they usually offer capabilities such as live migration, storage migration, fault tolerance, high availability, and distributed resource scheduling. These technologies keep virtual machines chugging along or give them the ability to quickly recover from unplanned outages. The ability to quickly and easily move a virtual machine from one server to another is perhaps one of the greatest single benefits of virtualization with far-reaching uses. As the technology continues to mature to the point where it can do long-distance migrations, such as being able to move a virtual machine from one data center to another no matter the network latency involved, the virtual world will become that much more in demand.

Despite the value virtualization can bring to business continuity, it is no magic bullet against a cataclysmic local event such as a flood or fire. The implementation of failover across geographic regions is likely to be too expensive for most SMBs to afford, while live migration does require the presence of Gigabit Ethernet (or faster) network in order to function.


4. Isolate Applications

In the physical world, companies typically moved to a "one app/one server" model in order to isolate applications. But this caused physical server sprawl, increased costs, and underutilized servers. Server virtualization provides application isolation and removes application compatibility issues by consolidating many of these virtual machines across far fewer physical servers. This also cuts down on server waste by more fully utilizing the physical server resources and by provisioning virtual machines with the exact amount of CPU, memory, and storage resources that it needs.


5. Extend the life of older applications

Let's be honest -- you probably have old legacy applications still running in your environment. These applications probably fit into one or more of these categories: It doesn't run on a modern operating system, it may not run on newer hardware, your IT team is afraid to touch it, and chances are good that the person or company who created it is no longer around to update it. By virtualizing and encapsulating the application and its environment, you can extend its life, maintain uptime, and finally get rid of that old Pentium machine hidden in the corner of the data center. You know the one, it's all covered in dust with fingerprints from administrators long gone and names forgotten.


6. Test Security Updates and Patches

Virtualization makes it a trivial task to test out new software updates or security patches prior to their deployment on live systems. Moreover, internal development teams will also benefit from testing N-Tier applications on a virtualized replica of the current infrastructure to test for problems arising from unanticipated interactions between the various components.

Of course, the usual caveat about Murphy's Law applies here; even the most thorough testing can miss bugs that are intermittent in nature or that surface only in certain circumstances. Moreover, SMBs need to beware that testing everything in this manner can be an expensive endeavor given their relative limited resources. Ultimately, care must be taken not to let update/patch testing to cause an impediment to the quick deployment of time sensitive security patches.


7. Move to Desktop Virtualization

One increasingly popular facet of virtualization is client virtualization, which entails running the entire desktop environment within a centralized server. With all processing is done within the server, client devices are typically thin clients that serve as an end node to connect I/O peripherals such as keyboard, mouse, a display, audio connectors and even USB ports over the LAN.

While there are similarities between client and server virtualization in terms of the basic infrastructure required, businesses should not make the mistake of mixing them together due to differing objectives and technical considerations. The term "virtual desktop infrastructure" or VDI is used describe the hardware and software components required to support a desktop virtualization deployment.

In view of the complexity of obtaining a good virtual desktop experience, you may be interested to know that a number of vendors have emerged to offer turnkey VDI solutions to help SMBs get started.