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Resistance is futile: Five ways to secretly virtualize a server

Have you ever virtualized a physical server without telling anyone? I admit, I'm guilty of it, and I bet that many of you are as well. After all, with virtualization becoming so reliable and trusted, it's tempting to go rogue and virtualize a server without permission.

Why virtualization is inevitable (in case you forgot)

I could write a book ­­ on the benefits of virtualization, so I don't want to rehash those here. For those who could use a quick reminder, here are the top three reasons you should

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virtualize those aging physical servers:

  • Save your company money -- physical servers cost more to buy and maintain. When they aren't working, they cost you more in downtime.
  • Save yourself time -- physical servers take more time to deploy, administer, protect and troubleshoot. Replacing them will save you a tremendous amount of time. The end result is that you, as an administrator, will look more efficient.
  • Give your company the flexibility it needs -- with virtualization you'll be able to bring up new applications in minutes, move running VMs from host to host, provide high availability and balance your workloads across servers.

I believe that virtualization is inevitable in the data center, so what are you waiting for? Like the "Borg" in Star Trek would say, resistance to virtualization is futile.

So what do you do if others in your organization resist virtualization? Of course, I first recommend doing the responsible thing (and the thing that is best for your career) -- educate them. By learning how virtualization works, they will feel more comfortable with it, see the benefits of it and want you to virtualize their applications.

However, if that doesn't work, here are five ways to sneak in virtualization without telling anyone.

1. Aging server replacement

Physical servers tend to last about two to three years before their extended warranties become too expensive, at which time it makes more sense to purchase or lease a new server. For this reason, when I was a data center manager, we leased all hardware for three years.

When a number of physical servers are up on lease, why not lease a cluster of two or three new physical servers, maxed out with RAM and CPU, and use them to virtualize the aging physical servers? Everyone is expecting some downtime while the aging physical server is replaced anyway. With some leases, you can even lease software, like VMware vSphere Enterprise Edition, to help you get the most out of your growing virtual infrastructure. This is, by far, the easiest and most logical way to virtualize servers.

2. Physical server failure

In some cases, you just can't get the approval to replace an aging server (maybe due to budget cutting) nor can you get the okay to virtualize the app running on it. When that physical server finally does fail, you can show how great virtualization is by restoring the last physical server backup into a VM and getting the virtualized version of the server up faster (and performing just as well) than expensive server replacement parts could arrive to fix the old physical server. For those who are a bit devious, it's inevitable that the old physical sever will "break" (wink) leaving you no option but to virtualize the application.

3. Migrate during the maintenance window

Let's say that you have a maintenance window every week where some downtime is expected. This is a great opportunity to virtualize a server without anyone knowing. Of course, this assumes that your virtual infrastructure is designed well enough to handle the load and run the application as well, or better, than when it was on a physical server.

4. Daring daytime cutover

It is possible to virtualize an application using something like VMware's Converter where you perform the physical to virtual migration, use the same IP address, and the software sends an address resolution protocol update when the new VM is ready. This is the most daring of all the options, as we are talking about a live cutover, during the day.

5. Force their hand

Finally, in many cases, you can force management's hand by setting requirements like:

  • "With the increased data center demand, we'll have to hire three more administrators, or we can move to virtualization."
  • "With the approval of the 50 new end user workstations, we'll have to use desktop virtualization or my team simply cannot support them."
  • "In order to create a disaster recovery plan, test and maintain it with the limited staff, we'll have to use virtualization."

Of course, you don't want to get in trouble at your office or jeopardize your career. Virtualization is a great thing that will eventually take over the data center, but it's also not worth getting fired over. With that caveat in mind, do what you can do to move to 100% virtualization in order to save your company money, save you time, and make your data center much more efficient.

This was first published in February 2014

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