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10 steps to get started with virtualization

Paul Venezia | Oct. 13, 2011
The benefits of server virtualization are so significant at this point that implementing it is a no-brainer.

The benefits of server virtualization are so significant at this point that implementing it is a no-brainer. First and foremost, server virtualization makes much better use of computing resources than physical servers do, since you can run many different virtual servers on a single physical host. In fact, you may be surprised at just how many general-purpose server instances a single modern server can handle simultaneously.

Another major benefit of server virtualization is the ability to shift running virtual servers between physical hosts to balance load and allow for maintenance windows. You can also use snapshots of virtual servers to keep a moment-in-time copy of a running server prior to making changes such as software updates. If something goes wrong, you can simply return to the snapshot, and the affected server will be running as if you had never touched anything. Clearly, this approach can save significant time and aggravation.

If you haven't already moved down the virtualization road, fear not: More options are available now than ever before, and any time is the right time to get started.

1. Start Small on Your Desktop or Laptop

Although server virtualization has certainly taken the server room by storm, you also have many ways to bring virtualization into the office on a smaller scale--namely, on your desktop or laptop.

Generally, modern desktop and laptop PCs have a surprising amount of resources that go unused when the system is performing little tasks such as email reading or Web browsing. If you find that you have the need to run a different operating system from time to time (say, to support a legacy application), you could fire up a virtual desktop on your local system and forgo the physical installation.

This arrangement is especially useful when you encounter application-incompatibility issues stemming from running older code on newer operating systems. To give it a shot for free, you can download VirtualBox for the PC.

2. Set Up a Small, Possibly Free, Lab

If you've retired servers recently, they may be a good platform for you to begin building a virtualization lab. The key is to make sure that they have several gigabit network interfaces, and as much RAM as you can fit in them. Virtualization tends to be lighter on CPU resources but heavier on RAM, especially if you use a virtualization method that doesn't employ RAM page sharing to squeeze more space out of physical RAM.

If you don't happen to have spare servers handy, you can pick up a new cheap server (again with plenty of RAM) to test with. If you're feeling ambitious, you can even build one from spare parts you might have lying around. In a lab setting, this machine can serve as a proof of concept, but you shouldn't run it in production.


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