Managed service providers have a lot to gain by splicing virtualization into their infrastructure. Not only does it offer potential revenue gains when added to the existing list of IT services, it offers vendors the ability to reduce the costs and management complexities associated with maintaining their own data center environment. MSPs can benefit from this robust technology in a variety of ways, but there are hurdles to overcome, with some of the steepest being tied to hardware resources.
Sizing Up Your Servers
While there really are no hard and fast rules that dictate what makes an ideal host server, there are some resource requirements that must be met. An IT manager can usually determine if their box is a worthy candidate by looking at the number of cores. Nestled on the CPU, the core does all the heavy lifting, so if you’re planning to run some demanding tasks in several virtual environments, you want to load up in this department. A server with more cores on its processor typically means more speed and stability across your network of virtual machines.
Putting cores aside for a second, there are some physical machines that just are not cut out for server virtualization. For example, if you have a server that houses a complex database system and already handles a huge load on a regular basis, that machine probably isn’t a good fit for the job. Additionally, there are certain hypervisors that simply don’t run on certain machines. VMware has compiled a compatibility list that will give you a good idea if your existing hardware cuts the mustard.
Understanding Minimum Requirements
If it’s one thing virtual machines love, it’s memory. RAM determines the actual number of VMs you can run in a physical machine and the more you’ve got — well, you get it. So what’s the minimal amount required? That all depends on the software. Two gigs is the minimum for Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization version 3. For VMware Workstation 5.0, the minimum is a mere 128 MB, though 256 MB is recommended for optimal performance. The host server and its family of virtual machines can never have too much memory, so if it’s one resource you splurge on, let it be RAM.
Storage is another critical resource that can either make or break your implementation. An MSP must have somewhere to keep the images of those virtual servers, which are significantly larger than your average ISO file for a video game. Some vendors will have the benefit of enterprise storage devices, which may offer the advantage of more capacity and better performance. Others may initially have nothing but the hard disk drive in the host computer. You might be forced to make huge adjustments here because depending on the number of virtual machines you want to run, you could be looking at terabytes in storage needs.
Simple Strategy for Resource Allocation
With the vast pool of all the essential resources at your disposal, it’s time to divide and distribute those resources accordingly. Proper allocation is critical to creating a virtual infrastructure that delivers a consistently awesome performance as well as the cost benefits behind this technology. Consider these three tips to make the most of your allocation efforts:
1. Identify tasks: Use projected applications or workloads to the determine the amount of resources required for individual virtual machines. It helps to know if you’ll be doing everything from app testing to website development or simply want to run Linux and Mac OS X beside an old copy of Windows.
2. Pick the right software: While you still have to do the math, a good virtual machine manager will simplify the process of resource allocation. Many VMware products allow you to dynamically allocate resources by making the proper tweaks to areas such as “limit”, “reservations”, and “share” in your settings.
3. Lean on your vendor. Chances are, your software vendor is a virtualization expert who may be willing to help you understand how specific applications and workloads impact resources. Hopefully so because that expertise will go a long way in divvying up your processing power, memory and disk space in efficient fashion.
A virtualization implementation is not to be taken lightly. Underestimate the importance of resources, and you will be condemned to a strained infrastructure that can’t even sniff its potential, which in many ways, is more frustrating than all out failure.
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