If you are the owner of a small to mid-sized business, you are likely familiar with the theme of doing more with less. Small to mid-sized businesses often face shrinking budgets, particularly when it comes to IT.  Do you have limited IT personnel, limited office space, or are you being challenged to reduce your IT physical overhead? If so, your business may be the ideal candidate for virtualization.

Virtualization is the process of creating something in a virtual, or software-based, environment. By moving from local stand-alone servers to cloud virtualized servers, your company can streamline and optimize performance, allowing you to scale as your company grows. Here are five steps to help you prepare your organization for a move to virtualization.

1. Assess Your Current Environment

While certain automation systems can scan and determine what you have in your environment, they don’t always tell the entire story. Yes, you can use them to audit your work, but it’s best to get your hands dirty and do a deep dive into your environment. Your knowledge is power. Here are some questions you should ask as you take on a full server room cleanup.

  • Do you truly know what’s there?
  • Do you have a full network inventory?
  • Do you have a full server inventory?
  • Do you know exactly what role/function each server plays?
  • Do you have servers that have been decommissioned but are still either online, powered on, or powered off but just taking up space?
  • Do you know the utilizations of each server? (OS, CPU, Memory, HDD/Storage)
  • Do you have centralized storage or is it all local to each server?
  • Do you have a team of resources or are you a one-man shop?
  • Do you currently utilize any virtualization software/technologies?

Knowing all this information may seem like overkill, but it will help when determining if you have equipment you can reuse, what can be migrated, what can be removed and how equipment could be used in the future.

When you are collecting your data, here are a few tips to help make the process go more smoothly.

  • Make sure that you have 100% full backups of any critical servers.
  • Record what you have using Excel, Asset Tracking Software, or a Word document list.
  • Document each server make, model, serial number, hardware specs, software specs, version numbers for Windows and Apps, purpose/roles, as well as technical roles specifically (DHCP server, Application Servicer – CRM XYZ Company, etc.).
  • Have someone else audit your work (a second set of eyes is crucial) or use an automated network scanning tool.

These tips will help set you up for success as you begin planning for virtualization.


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What Does Virtualization Mean for Small Businesses?

2. Plan for Virtualization

Planning for virtualization will require a solid, written plan to help keep you on track. Now that you have evaluated your current environment, you can begin pre-planning or scoping the project. To begin, you should consider how you will role out virtualization and which systems are optimized for virtualization technologies.

Select Virtualization Hypervisor Platform

The next step is selecting which virtualization hypervisor platform you wish to use for virtualization. Virtualization Hypervisor is the software that runs the virtualizations platform. The top four brands are VMware, Citrix, Microsoft and Oracle.

Determine Server Environment Needs

Now determine which servers are designed or optimized for virtualization. Some servers come pre-built with virtualization tools or optimizations. There are also servers that run single functions that can be consolidated.

Identify Reasons for Virtualizing

Are you looking for high availability, resiliency, or just to declutter and optimize? Knowing why you are virtualizing is important. You may need to purchase new equipment, or you may be able to reuse some existing equipment. For example, you might be able to rework your six-server environment to only use two servers. Remain focused on the main objectives to make sure you make the best choices for your environment.

Map Out and Create a Project Timeline

When creating a project timeline, you will want to keep it agile and continually update it as roadblocks or other issues arise. Be sure to include any vacations or times when work won’t be getting done. Determine what your contingency plans could be for potential problems, such as a server that fails to migrate, a server crash, or other issues. Each migration type for each server should be determined in the project plan, whether it’s a P2V (Physical-to-Virtual) conversion, stand alone set up and tear down (installing new servers and removing old servers), or a migration and consolidation (combining multiple single-purpose servers into one VM).

3. Address Concerns about Virtualization

Now that the assessment and pre-planning is done, you will need to defend your proposal. Be sure you are armed with the proper information and can defend potential arguments and answer any questions that may arise. A common concern includes the change being too difficult and time consuming. Stakeholders may say the conversion is not worth the hassle and argue that the existing system is just fine. Be prepared to demonstrate how the effort now will pay off in the long run.

Many virtualization platforms offer free trials, which allow   you to try the system before you go into production. Learning as much as you can through whitepapers, technical how-tos, community networks, and training courses will help prepare you for going live.

Take the time to research and plan on the front end. The increased optimization and efficiency of a new system will save the company money over the long term.


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What are the benefits of Virtualization?

4. Combat Arguments that Virtualization is too Costly

An effective way to reduce IT expenses and boost efficiencies is to move local stand-alone servers to cloud virtualized servers to free office space and help reduce the costs of cooling a server room.

Let’s compare the long-term value proposition to the short-term cost. Cost and value are two separate entities that are often mistakenly lumped together. Remain focused on the long-term goals and overall cost savings.

You will have less hardware to purchase and maintain with internal staff if you go to cloud. The cloud services provider (CSP) will procure all the hardware as a part of your service, therefore, minimizing costs in the initial set up. By utilizing cloud servers, you will also use less power to run the servers and to keep the servers cool meaning a lower electricity bill. New servers can be set up more quickly, because everything is optimized and planned. And with optimized utilization on each VM server, there’s less hardware overall.

Scaling virtualization technologies as need be to fit cost and budget concerns is doable. Just start with the free products and scale up and out as your needs change.

5. Roll out Virtualization without Disruptions

To minimize downtime, stick to your plan and make the needed adjustments as you execute your plan. Don’t be afraid to change the plan as you come across roadblocks. Always start small and scale up as needed. Beginning with the low hanging fruit – the conversions that are least likely to break or cause downtime – will give you small wins along the way. If downtime occurs, use your fall back plans or troubleshoot and diagnose the issues so you can adjust.

If you are starting with a new server on a new project, consider virtualization on the front end. Get your feet wet without impacting your existing technologies and workflows. This practice will help you work out any issues for future projects.

Is it time for your business to switch to a virtual environment? An easy transition could start with your phone system. Learn more about our business phone systems and contact us to learn more.