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Determining what hardware is needed to support virtualization

Your short- and long-term virtualization strategies are important to consider when choosing hardware. Depending on how aggressive your strategies are, virtualization can place a significant strain on hardware resources. But before deciding on the technical specs, determine whether the new hardware will be used only for virtualization or a combined virtual and physical environment.

In a TechTarget survey on

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Windows Purchasing Intentions 2012, IT professionals revealed the reasons for which they would most likely use server virtualization within their organizations. Number one on the list was server consolidation.

If it is to be used only for virtualized environments, will that decision help your business save money? Large-scale virtualization requires powerful servers, which often come with large up-front costs, so you will have to analyze this approach carefully.

For instance, purchasing a large server hosting numerous virtual machines can ultimately be more expensive than several 1U physical servers. But to counterbalance that, most companies with large-scale environments say they save money through the other benefits associated with virtualization, including reduced energy needs and centralized management.

But if you plan to spend an extended period of time bouncing back and forth between virtual and physical environments, you should decide early on what sort of systems-level management software you want. You can choose between buying two separate management packages, one for each environment, or buying one capable of managing both virtual and physical environments.

Unfortunately, there isn’t an abundance of tools to choose from that manage both, although VMware Inc.’s vCenter APIs now allow users to integrate physical and virtual management tools so they can work in concert to help manage a hybrid environment. With the arrival of Hyper-V 3.0 and a number of systems management features built into Microsoft’s upcoming Windows Server 8, users will be able to more easily manage workloads across mixed environments. But, generally speaking, existing management tools for the physical world have not evolved nearly as fast as the advances in virtual infrastructure.

Cost issues
When it comes to cost savings by centralizing server management, and purchasing server hardware to run Windows Server 2008 R2, decide up front whether you are going to buy that technology from the hardware vendor, Microsoft or a third-party software company.

Most leading server manufacturers, including IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Dell, will offer to bundle their own hardware-level management capabilities and/or their own management software solution. These tools tend to be heavy on diagnostic capabilities and light on configuration capabilities. They are also more costly than products from independent software companies, and so is the support that comes with them.

But the past several years have brought a proliferation of different server management offerings that have made the lives of data center professionals more complex and even more expensive.

To reduce costs and simplify software management, an increasing number of shops are gravitating toward using servers from a single manufacturer. Some prefer a third-party management tool that can handle environments with multiple existing management software and hardware offerings, although having a heterogeneous environment usually comes at a cost in terms of management granularity.

Whatever tool you decide on, make sure it gives you a good balance of support and detail. Once that decision is in your rearview mirror, you can focus on the hardware configuration that best meets your computing goals. Making such decisions for virtualized environments is no different from making them for any other environment.

But there are a few technical features that IT professionals need to be mindful of. Focusing on processor speed, memory performance and expandability can go a long way toward eliminating performance bottlenecks that often plague virtualized environments. Local storage concerns, on the other hand, are not as important when choosing virtualized servers because the overall system will be relying on shared storage.

Ed Scannell is Senior Executive Editor with SearchWindowsServer.com. He can be contacted at escannell@techtarget.com.

This was first published in March 2012

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