How a server consolidation project can help your branch offices

You know the benefits of a server consolidation project in your main office's data center. In branch offices, a server consolidation project can offer similar perks.

We often talk about a server consolidation project and how it can solve the problems of large enterprises.

Sure, it's complex and exciting to talk about, but don't forget: A server consolidation project with virtualization can also benefit branch offices. In fact, workloads in branch offices are great candidates for a server consolidation project because most have low resource utilization.

In the news
With virtualization know-how under their belts, IT managers have begun to consider virtualization for remote offices. But questions about best practices persist.

Today, branch offices have become the new battleground for VMware Inc. and Microsoft. These small offices represent new opportunities, because most have not aligned themselves fully with one vendor or the other -- if at all. As a result, VMware and Microsoft have made their features and prices more attractive.

Let's look at how a server consolidation project can uniquely benefit your branch offices.

Reducing hardware with a server consolidation project
Branch offices typically need somewhere between three and 10 servers, including file and print servers, antivirus servers, localized application servers and some sort of domain and infrastructure servers.

These servers are often a hodgepodge of low-end rack servers and even spare desktops, so the benefits of consolidating these workloads are clear. By standardizing hardware, you can save money on redundant power supplies, disks and more.

And when branch offices have dedicated rack space or extensive power and cooling infrastructure, server consolidation comes in handy. Space is usually limited and shared with data communication equipment, a phone system and so on, and server virtualization is a perfect fit for these scenarios. By consolidating servers, there is less need for expensive computing space, you will use less power and you could potentially eliminate the need for a cooling system.

A server consolidation project also lets you provision new workloads at branch offices -- workloads that you typically have to store at the main site and deliver over a wide area network (WAN). This strategy can reduce your bandwidth requirements and allow client computers to access these resources at full speed.

It also deemphasizes a WAN for business continuity purposes. If a WAN goes down, all the local services provisioned on the branch office's virtual host will still be available.

Security in branch offices
Security is a big concern at branch offices. Servers are rarely as physically secure as they should be, and the potential for important data to be stolen is higher.

A server consolidation project makes virtual hosts easier to physically secure, either in a data communication area or even a locked office. But server virtualization security concerns remain. If a disk or entire host server is stolen, it's much easier to access sensitive data, thanks to the standard tools and practices available for looking inside VMware and Microsoft virtual hard drives. Tools such as the Bitlocker disk encryption feature in Windows can provide an extra level of security if your hosts are lost or stolen.

About the expert
Rob McShinsky is a senior systems engineer at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., and has more than 12 years of experience in the industry. Since 2004 he has focused on server virtualization. He has been closely involved with Microsoft as an early adopter of Hyper-V and System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008, as well as a customer reference. In addition, he blogs at VirtuallyAware.com, writing tips and documenting experiences with various virtualization products.


This was first published in May 2010

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