If you're getting ready to embark on a journey of server virtualization, you should first do your homework. It's not just about knowing what you want the servers to do, but also about what you must have in place before you even begin. It's about performing due diligence on your hardware and network capability, as well as on yours and your staff's abilities.
I have created a list of preflight checks you should go through to make sure you are honestly ready for virtualization (and that you really need it). Going through these points will help you make sure that the virtual technology is a good fit. If, in the end, you have solid answers to these questions – then virtualization might just be for you and your company.
1. Do you have the staff?
Just having the need (or want) doesn't mean you have the capability of unleashing virtualization on your company. This is a very specific technology that requires specific knowledge. If you don't already have capable staff on hand, get them trained before you go any further. You do not want to virtualize your servers only then to have to learn how to successfully administer those environments. That is a recipe for disaster.
2. Do you have the hardware?
Yes, you can throw a number of virtual machines at a single server. But does that server have the resources to successfully run those guest platforms? Not only do you need to make sure you have plenty of RAM, storage, and CPU power; but make sure you're working with a Gigabit network card. You can beef up that server all you want, but if you slap a slow network card on the machine, you're going to seriously bottleneck the services.
3. Do you really need virtualization?
If you're looking at virtualizing a server that only serves up an internal CMS, you might want to re-consider. Make sure the purpose justifies the time and expense that will go into getting those servers virtualized. Otherwise, it's a waste of valuable resources. Don't jump on the virtualization bandwagon just to say you did.
4. Do you fully understand virtualization?
If you aren't really sure what virtualization is and what it can offer you and your company, make sure you do the research. Virtualization can really push your company forward, if used properly. If there's a lot of muddy water between you and this technology, you are simply not ready for it. To get the most out of your VMs, a comprehensive understanding of how they work and what they can do must be under your belt. Take a class, attend a seminar/webinar, read a book – whatever it takes to get you up to speed on what this has to offer.
5. Do you have the capacity to get back up quickly from disaster?
Sure you know how to get a virtual machine up and running. But do you understand what it takes to get one spun back up in case of emergency? Do you know what snapshots are and how they are best used? Before you implement your virtual technology, make sure you have a plan in place that will ensure your servers are back up as quickly as possible.
6. Do you know which technology best fits your needs?
There are a few technologies available for virtualization. Do you need the flexibility and support of VMWare? Would you rather go with the open source VirtualBox and be on your own for support? Can you afford everything necessary to get VMWare up and running or is budget really an issue? Have far do you need to stretch your virtual technology? Before you dive into these waters, make sure you fully understand what all the different options can offer. You need to decide which flavor of virtualization you will be using before you start the process.
7. Do you need virtual appliances or installations?
Virtual appliances allow you to get a server up and running quickly. You don't have to do a full installation, just create the machine, attach the appliance, spin it up, and do whatever configurations you need. Virtual appliances also come with everything pre-built, so they should “just work” out of the box. Building a virtual machine from scratch means installing the operating system and then all of the software to run the services you need. One saves you a lot of time and the other allows you to better customize the platform as a whole.
8. Do you know your endgame with virtualization?
What is the final plan with virtualization? Is it to save money by using less hardware? Is it to be better equipped to get restored after disaster strikes? Is it to be more flexible or offer more services to customers/clients? Make sure you know the answers to these questions as those answers will dictate a good deal of your strategy in the beginning.
9. Do you have strong enough security to host multiple virtual machines on a single server?
This is a tough one. Most would like to answer that if they have enough security for a server farm, they have enough for a single host server. Not necessarily so. Remember, all of those precious VMs will be hosted under one place – if someone manages to break into that server, they have the keys to your kingdom. Make sure that host server is well protected before you go live. Do not rely on the Windows Server firewall. You'll want a physical device (Cisco or Shortel for example) protecting that server from the outside world. Overprotect that server as if your company's livelihood depended upon it – because it probably does.
10. What is your backup plan?
Will you be backing up the individual virtual machines with a tool like Acronis, or will you be backing up the entire virtual server? Will VEEAM come into play? Just because you can spin up a snapshot of your virtual machines doesn't mean those machines are properly backed up. Make sure you implement a well designed backup plan for your guests and host. Be redundant, be safe...and you won't be sorry.
Virtualization doesn't have to be a nightmare – nor does it have to be for everyone. Make sure you've given this technology plenty of thought before you dive in. A quick “pre-flight” check could save you thousands of dollars and precious time.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.