IT jargon demystified: Virtualization’s do-more-with-less magic

The latest in a series of expertIP posts aimed at single-site businesses helps break down commonly-used tech terms in ways that a layman can understand. Get those lazy servers working harder!

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The scenario: Every now and then experienced managers or business owners will encounter employees who are clearly not working as hard as they could be. This isn’t usually because there isn’t enough work to be done. Sometimes you can use incentives, warnings or some combination of the two in order to get that employee maximizing their workload potential. In other cases, however, particularly during difficult economic times, you downsize, and an already reasonably-productive employee ends up doing the work of multiple people. It’s not fun when this happens with human resources, but it’s the ideal scenario for IT equipment. For that, we need virtualization.

The definition: Although some aspects of the technology behind virtualization have existed for years, it has picked up considerable traction within the last five or so. Essentially, software allows a single server to act as though it is actually multiple machines, running several different “workloads” such as a company’s email system while also processing orders from customers. In many companies — even single-site businesses with only a few servers – there is computing power that is going unused. Virtualization creates virtual machines (VMs) that could be run on the same equipment or hosted online by a third party as a cloud computing service.

Why it matters: Imagine always paying to fill your car up with gas, but it ends up never getting driven more than half a tank’s worth. Virtualization can help organizations buy fewer pieces of equipment while increasing the utilization rates of the equipment they have. Virtualization technology can also be used on desktops, on network equipment and on storage technology. The best part? The person using the technology at the front end should never notice the difference. Their physical machines are still there, but in the virtual background, they are acting much more powerfully.

Your next move: Evaluate your current IT infrastructure, even if it’s just a server or two. Talk to your provider about utilization rates and figure out if you have excess capacity that could be better deployed. Identify targets for a virtualization pilot, and understand that the cost savings of not buying more servers might be offset by the cost of virtualization technology and related services. And pick metrics that will really matter to your business: productivity, efficiency and the ability to scale up as the business needs it.

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