Reducing hardware and power consumption costs might be viable in some scenarios with virtualization technology although the possible cost savings are often exaggerated. However, there are other factors to consider here.
Sophisticated virtualization technology does not come for free. Yes, there are a couple of free solutions available. However, they have important downsides. The most prominent solution is probably VMware Server. You could run it on a Linux host without any license costs. But we all know why VMware offers this product for free. It is not just because of Microsoft’s Virtual Server. The main reason is that they want you to buy VMware ESX after you started to like virtualization technology. You will want to have more performance, more redundancy and many other features that VMware Server lacks. Of course, this is an absolutely legitimate strategy. However, for most organizations it will mean they will pay sooner or later for virtualization technology. These costs certainly also have to be taken into account when it comes to the overall costs of server virtualization.
Note that it is not different with Microsoft’s Hyper-V. I don’t just mean that you have to purchase a Windows Server 2008 license to use it. I guess it won’t take long before Hyper-V Server will come out, a bare metal hypervisor that doesn’t require a Windows license. Of course, Microsoft also wants to make money with virtualization technology. To benefit significantly from server virtualization, you need sophisticated management tools, especially if you want to compensate for the biggest disadvantage of server virtualization – the reduced redundancy. In other words, you have no other choice but to invest in these tools. Rest assured that, over time, they will become more powerful but also more expensive. These costs have to be considered too.
However, it is well known that the key factor of the total cost of ownership (TCO) is neither software nor hardware nor electricity. You won’t be surprised to hear that the main cost factor in any IT department is you, dear administrator! Everyone talks about server consolidation, but what about “administrator consolidation“? Can server virtualization be helpful here?
There is no doubt that virtualization technology adds a new layer of complexity to our IT infrastructure. More complexity usually requires additional IT professionals. At least this is true at the beginning when you introduce virtualization technology. Large organizations in particular have no other choice than to employ virtualization specialists if they plan to virtualize a large number of their servers. The administrators they already have will be needed to manage the virtual servers; the fact that you have fewer physical servers does not reduce the number of applications you have to maintain.
Server virtualization saves costs when it comes to the management of physical servers. Large companies might need less people to install the servers to their racks. However, I think these cost savings are more or less negligible because a server has to be replaced only once in five years and you do not need Einsteins to do this kind of work. On the other hand, the virtualization specialists certainly earn a little more and will be busier once the servers have been installed.
So, server virtualization doesn’t make sense at all? On the contrary, I do believe that in many cases you can benefit from virtualization technology. In my view, the real advantage of server virtualization is the new flexibility that it brings to server management. For example, the ability to move a virtual server easily to another host, to take snapshots or to duplicate complete servers in couple of seconds, are features that any administrator would like to have. Hence, once the IT staff has mastered the virtualization technology it will improve productivity in the IT department. Since server virtualization can also reduce downtime, it can help to increase productivity in other parts of an organization.
In conclusion, it is not server consolidation, but rather server flexibility that provides the real benefit of server virtualization. In most cases server virtualization will mean extra costs for an organization. However, since it also can increase productivity this extra costs are often justified. I think it is important for an IT manager to consider this because if at the end of the year your CEO wants to know why the promised cost reductions didn’t come true after you introduced server virtualization, you should be prepared to give a reasonable answer.
Articles in this series:
- Seven disadvantages of server virtualization
- Does server virtualization reduce costs? Part II – Power savings
- Does server virtualization reduce costs? Part I – Hardware expenses
- Does server virtualization reduce costs? Part III – Software and payroll costs