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Virtual data center decisions: Should you go 100% virtual?

Our advisory board members offer their opinions on going 100% virtual, a pressing virtual data center decision now that hypervisors are more powerful.

As hypervisors become powerful enough to host mission-critical workloads, organizations face the tough virtual

data center decision of going 100% virtual.

Once thought to be unrealistic, 100% virtualization is now an attainable goal with real benefits, such as improved data center uptime and flexibility. But virtual data center decisions surrounding 100% virtualization are not cut and dry. The costs and licensing issues may outweigh the benefits.

With that being said, the Server Virtualization Advisory Board decided to speak their mind about going 100% virtual.

Shannon Snowden, New Age Technologies
At many of the companies where I consult, striving for 100% virtualization is certainly the goal. But the primary factors that held back full adoption were high availability and industry maturity.

In most organization, once virtualization is deployed to the production network, every server becomes a candidate. But for years, many companies would not put their mission-critical applications on a new -- and in their minds -- unproven platform.

The hypervisor vendors have done a great job at addressing high availability, load balancing, disaster recovery and manageability. Enough time has passed that it makes perfect sense for more companies to pursue and achieve 100% virtualization, because the hypervisors have proven to be capable of mission-critical application hosting.

For nearly a year now, I have done almost nothing but disaster recovery with virtualization, using Site Recovery Manager and Zerto. I see more and more companies putting their most critical applications on a virtual platform, because it has simply evolved into a better solution for high availability and disaster recovery.

Dave Sobel, Level Platforms
I absolutely believe that companies should strive for 100% virtualization. As hypervisor performance continues to improve, the truly flexible, scalable and cloud-enabled data center depends on virtualization. 

From self-provisioning to the redistribution of workloads, virtualization reduces overhead for IT staff, allows for data center resources to be allocated in dynamic ways and saves on upgrade costs. Virtualization separates hardware and software, and all sizes of enterprise can benefit from this configuration. Ultimately, 100% virtualization is a powerful and necessary goal.

Rob McShinsky, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center
No. An IT pro looking to virtualize all his servers just because he can is similar a surgeon looking at a medical patient: Surgery may fix the ailment, but there may be better treatments. The surgeon should consider how intrusive and costly the surgery is to the patient.

Virtualization is the same way. Do I really want to virtualize an application requesting eight processors, 32 GB of RAM and many terabytes of data? I can, but will my VM receive the same overall level of performance as it would on physical hardware? Will there be additional management or troubleshooting steps for this VM in a shared-resource environment? 

Also, how does the licensing work for the application? Is it a core or socket-based CPU license? In the example above, with socket-based licensing and a physical server, you could acquire a two-socket license for two, quad-core processors. With a VM, however, you would have to license the application as if it were an eight-socket system. 

In the future, I expect vendors to drop some of these barriers. But for now, I don’t think virtualizing for the sake of virtualizing makes sense…yet.

Christian Metz, First American
Whenever possible, I can see why companies of all sizes would look to go 100% virtual. Virtualizing your production systems provides on-demand resources. As your system requirements increase, you can dynamically expand your resources with the click of a button, instead of a trip to the data center. In addition to dynamic expansion, the software is decoupled from the hardware, so your hardware upgrades don’t necessarily require downtime.

As previously stated, decoupling the OS makes your workloads more portable and flexible. Even when using a high amount of resources on a host, being able to quickly clone or port a system is a huge advantage.

Also, huge strides have been made in allowing applications, such as SQL, to run on a hypervisor.On the whole, the first option should always be to virtualize your systems, unless your application's requirements exceed the VM’s limitations.

This was first published in May 2012

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