SMB server buying guide: The role of virtualization

In this SMB Server Buying Guide, Computerworld examines the major players and their offerings for this changing segment of the market.

Today's server offerings are no longer strictly tailored for the enterprise. As the small to medium business (SMB) sector become more IT dependent, tier one vendors are beginning to package server solutions for the mid-market.

In this SMB Server Buying Guide, Computerworld examines the major players and their offerings for this changing segment of the market.

Part two: The role of virtualization

The findings also found a strong interest in hosted virtual desktop (HVD) technology.

See part one: SMB server buying guide -- The rise of the SMB server

HVD ranked third as the highest SMB priority in 2011 after server virtualization and transitioning to more Windows based servers.

Kim said server virtualisation is growing rapidly in the mid-market.

In fact the deployment of virtualization has been growing faster in SMBs than in large enterprises. This is partly due to the size of the mid-market which includes companies with between 100 and 999 employees.

“This technology has become a standard offering for this segment of the market,” he said. “Also, SMBs tend to deal with fewer servers and less stakeholders, which makes technology adoption an easier process compared to larger organisations.

“Many SMBs adopt server virtualization as a cost saving measure by consolidating servers, reducing future hardware capital expenditure and reducing energy costs. “However, many SMBs still do not recognise the other benefits such as server deployment agility, higher availability and business continuity.”

Server virtualization technology allows multiple, independent operating systems to run “virtually” on a single server making the most of each physical server’s capacity.

In effect, it creates multiple, independent computers on each server.

For example, instead of running 10 servers at 20 per cent capacity each and with just a handful of applications, virtualization enables many businesses to use only two or three servers, each at close to maximum capacity.

Eliminating physical machinery also reduces power consumption – both the power to run the servers and the power to cool the server room.

It also simplifies maintenance while keeping the same amount of computing power.

“When implemented correctly, server virtualization frees up financial and human resources for more strategic initiatives,” Kim explains.

“Consolidating resources through virtualization can reduce server-related costs by as much as 70 per cent.

“Other benefits include greater uptime, higher fault tolerance and improved operational continuity in the event of a disaster.”

VMware recently announced it would offer its product packages at up to 50 per cent off list price, starting at less than $500. This provides SMBs with an opportunity to start testing virtualisation for as little as $495 plus licensing.

Another factor that is shaping server purchasing in the SMB sector is mobility. With the explosive growth in data and information, security and data management issues have become more challenging for SMBs.

There has also been an increase in the number of remote workers requiring access to core business applications and collaboration tools over the Internet.

“The challenge is even bigger for SMBs that lack database administration and storage skills in their IT departments,” he said.

“More servers and storage are needed leading to more security risks, painful data migrations and possible downtime.

“As a result vendors should offer simple and affordable security packages and data backup/recovery tools along with their server sales.”

Cloud computing is also set to impact server sales as SMBs shift some of their Internal IT to external providers.

Kim said Cloud computing is an affordable and attractive alternative for this segment of the market.

“However, most SMBs will not be able to afford to build private clouds until the technology matures and becomes more affordable,” he said.

While all of these trends are shaping SMB purchasing requirements, there are more immediate considerations that need to be taken into account before assessing vendor offerings.

For example, SMBs need to understand their workloads and storage needs before evaluating rack systems.

The good news is that storage capacity on most servers and network attached devices are growing while prices continue to fall.

It is important to map out storage needs prior to any significant investment in servers.

When looking at server performance, SMBs should look at the kind of data they are using and the amount of entries to get the right throughput.

Many smaller companies start with a tower server but if your organisation is processing as much as 50 database transactions a minute then more sophisticated hardware is required.

Other considerations are price, upgrade paths, energy consumption, cooling, space, support and licensing.

Next, in part three: The major players

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