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Tier-one applications: Part of effective virtualization strategies

Mature virtualization strategies should now include tier-one applications. Yet, many data centers shy away from the practice.

Virtualizing tier-one applications has begun to catch on. If your virtualization strategies do not include business-critical workloads, you may want to reevaluate that decision.

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Over the past three to five years, a major shift took place in server infrastructure. As budgets tightened, and virtualization technologies matured, server virtualization exploded into a perfect storm on the data center scene.

By the time most IT shops began exploring virtualization, their server environments were rife with low-end servers, which consumed rack space at an unprecedented pace, stressing data center infrastructures to their breaking points.

In many of these IT shops, the return on investment and other benefits of server virtualization, such as reduced power draw and greater resource efficiency, had an immediate effect. But many IT departments found themselves with a daunting list of servers to virtualize. Between migration lists and the constant stream of new servers, IT first attacked the “low hanging fruit,” or the easy-to-virtualize servers that presented little to no risk.

Confidence grows in server virtualization
During the past several years, IT departments have worked out their virtualization strategies, which include migrating legacy servers to virtual hosts and creating all new virtual machines. Those efforts are paying off, and organizations have seen their new server requests slow, and they have virtualized all of the lower-level applications

Despite the benefits of virtualization, some vendors have been slow to support virtualized, tier-one applications. These applications are generally databases and other workloads that support critical business functions, where uptime and performance are paramount. Both vendors and business owners have been wary of virtualizing these applications. But the cost of not virtualizing these applications is beginning to take a toll.

Maintaining a physical server infrastructure alongside a virtual environment  adds complexity to a data center. This setup frequently requires two backup and recovery methods, two patching strategies, complicated business continuity and disaster recovery plans and increased floor space and infrastructure demands. The list could go on, and each item exacerbates inefficiencies within the environment.

Moving forward with virtualization strategies
Hypervisors have improved to the point where many workloads, including tier-one applications, actually perform better in a virtual server than a physical one. For instance, multiple Microsoft Exchange performance benchmark records were set by environments deployed on a VMware hypervisor. As performance barriers begin to disappear, vendors are also beginning to amend their support statements to include virtualization, as well.

Throw in the fact that a virtual environment can have dramatically improved uptime, and lower recovery time objectives in the event of a disaster, then the value of virtualizing tier-one applications may looks very different than it did a few years ago. Times are changing, technologies are improving, and you always need to hold yesterday’s decisions against today’s realities.

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