Why virtualize?  Better yet, why use virtualized server services for your business?

I’ll try to answer that question in this blog post, though from a service provider point of view, but I’ll try to remove my bias where feasible.

Summary:  For many business needs, a virtualized server on a hosting providers infrastucture is very cost effective, very secure, and highly reliable.  When those 3 items are combined, the argument to use separate, physical servers becomes moot.  Virtualized server services are not for everyone, nor for ever task at hand, but for many, it is the more right solution.

Now that the summary is done, you can can read on for details as to why I think the above statements are true or just head on over to ipHouse and talk to sales and see what we can do for you, or both.

First, virtualization has a few meanings, but for this context, I am talking about the concept of taking a physical server (call it a host) and carving it into many virtual systems (call them guests) running concurrently.  Here’s a picture from using VMware atoms to help visualize what I am getting at:

 

VM -> Host visualization

VM -> Host visualization

This allows the ability to spread the cost of a fast and expensive physical server amongst multiple guest systems.

When evaluating whether a virtual server service is right for your business, please check out my blog post for some basic questions then come back here.

Virtualized guest systems allow per customer (that’s you) servers compartmentalized away from other virtual guest systems.  Each of these systems (termed VPS or virtual private server going forward) can be a single customer, or a single customer could have multiple VPS systems configured.  Since each system is isolated from the next, security on a per guest system basis is quite high.

Let’s talk (network) security for a moment…

Some hosting companies run their hosts with lots and lots of VPS systems configured – and that’s great for many reasons, but one of the things that isn’t taken into account is the issue of security.  And I am not talking about the per VPS security or even OS security, but deeper into the network layer.  Many companies don’t run their systems with isolated network segments for their customers’ traffic.  This matters because some operating systems, like Windows, are quiet chatty on the network, broadcasting ‘hello, I am over here’ messages.  So if one Windows system is breached with a network virus, you better believe the other systems will be pounded on heavily via this broadcast traffic.  It is what virus and worm traffic does.

How to combat this?  Put each VPS (or set of VPS systems) into their own VLAN configuration giving full virtual lan segregation of traffic.  This is more complicated than just installing and booting up a ton of VPSs quickly, but in the end it really is better for the customer.  Another benefit of the VLAN configuration is that each VPS (or set of VPS systems) can (and should) have their own firewall configurations outside of the guest operating system, separating out network fire-walling away from the guest.

Back from the little aside…

Using a VPS for your hosting needs is quite cost effective.  Your hosting provider has spent many thousands of dollars on high end server equipment and by using virtual server instances can pass on effectively dedicated level service at a fraction of the cost of a dedicated physical server.

Example:  the average mid-size Dell 2900III server configured with reasonable hardware will cost approximately $2800, and this isn’t that out of line using Windows Server 2008 Standard, 4GB RAM, 3 160GB disks in RAID5.  If, instead, this system were broken into 3 VPS systems, you could do the simple math and come up with approximately $950 per guest, but that would not be an accurate representation of the cost, because each virtual would need its own Windows Server 2008 Standard license (at $799 on Dell’s store).

Take the $2800 – remove $800 from the cost leaving $2000 to work with, now cut that in three for $666.67 per virtual + the cost of Windows Server 2008 Standard at $799 each for a total of $4397.  Wow, that doesn’t seem very cost effective so far at all.

Your hosting provider spent the big bucks on their server equipment, so even if they break up the server into 20 pieces the cost of the operating system (in this case, Win2K8 Standard) still drives the cost up quite a bit even when broken up over a contract period of 12-36 months.  The part you might not know about yet…most providers have a licensing agreement with different operating system vendors, like Microsoft or RedHat, that moves the license cost from a one time (and sometimes high cost) to a more nominal monthly fee.  I can’t get into said costs here for many reasons, though.

Ding ding – the cost of a VPS is now reasonable, that expensive hardware investment your hosting provider made can be broken up over many customers, each customer having their own private resources, and with configuration, network security via VLANs.  Everyone wins!

The other nice thing about this kind of service is that it is quite green.  Not the color, but the efficiency.  When looking at dedicated physical hardware, most tasks do not require the full capabilities of the server all the time.  It is nice when you have that big CPU sitting there waiting for you to search your email for that PDF you sent to one of your customers, but the other 99.9% of the time the system is idle, using power for no other reason then to wait for your next search.

Virtualization allows many people/companies/applications to share those resources amongst themselves giving much higher utilization rates.  You see, an idle CPU uses quite a bit of power overall, and the same goes for the spinning hard disks, the RAM being refreshed, etc.  More items running at once spreads that load over more … things, reducing the power consumption compared to dedicating a physical server for each instance.

Reducing power consumption also saves the hosting provider money, which should reduce your costs as well.

Lastly, for this blog post at least, is the issue of equipment standards.  Using higher grade gear comes with the want (some would say need) of higher end equipment to support the virtual infrastructure.  This could be high end L2/L3 switches (used for VLAN configurations and high performance routing) to SAN for the storage side of the infrastructure.

Plug:  ipHouse is announcing their VPS services in the near future, built upon Dell PowerEdge servers (R905), Compellent SAN, and Cisco core switching.  Firewalls models are in the process of evaluation and we have used Fortigate for much of our managed infrastructure to date and feel they would work quite well.

If you can read this, you don’t need glasses…